BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
After 14 years of growing up in a Guyanese household with only television to prepare her for a life in the United States, Grace Aneiza Ali learned that what she saw and what she experienced when she moved to Washington, D.C., in 1995 were complete opposites.
“The transition was very difficult,” Ali said.
Three months after migrating from Guyana, Ali’s father was robbed and severely beaten during a severe thunderstorm. Although her father survived, he emerged from a coma with traumatic brain injuries and physical disabilities, leaving him wheel- chair-bound and with a speech impairment and memory loss.
Ali said that, in just one night, her mother went from being an immigrant with a minimum-wage job to a single mother of three, caretaker to a disabled husband and poor.
But that didn’t stop the family from pursuing their American dream. Ali—the founder and editorial director of NOTE magazine, an online publication where art and activism meet, and a teacher in the Department of Arts and Public Policy at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts—used her past experience as motivation.
Ali’s love for art comes from her lack of education in the arts while living in Guyana.
“It has a nonverbal language, like music, to move, to inspire, to catalyze change, to comfort, to tell stories,” Ali said. “I am drawn to it as well because it was absent from my life growing up in Guyana. I was never taught about Guyanese artists in my schooling there. I am constantly learning and studying about their legacy.”
Ali grew up in a Christian-Guyanese household, with infusions of her parents’ beliefs in Hinduism and Islam.
“Church was the center of our life,” Ali said. “So, in many ways, it was very sheltered. TV in my house was also very limited. We knew nothing about American culture, other than what we saw on television. Of course, when we arrived here, America was like nothing we saw on television.”
The majority of Ali’s work stems from her heritage and upbringing.
“I think Guyanese women are a work of art themselves, starting with my mother,” she said. “When it comes to Guyana’s artistic production, we’ve done some extraordinary things the world ought to know about.”
Although Ali grew up in Washington, D.C., and currently lives in Manhattan, she said that she appreciates Queens as it has been welcoming to Guyanese immigrants for decades.
“Queens has a special place in my heart for its connection to my homeland,” Ali said. “It literally transports you in a ‘little Guyana.’”
Ali said that her goals are to continue to be a good teacher, daughter, citizen and ambassador for Guyana’s artistic legacy.
On June 1, Manhattan’s Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute (CCCADI) will kick off an exhibit featuring 16 contemporary Guyanese artists. The program was curated by Ali.
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144 or firstname.lastname@example.org