(Croatian, “You Are Here, Where?)

During my artist residency at the Flexspace at Riverside Arts Center, I created new work inspired by correspondence within immigrant families.

Like many immigrants, I have held on to letters written by dear family members when I moved to the United States over 25 years ago. Some of these loved ones have since passed away, but their cadence and voice are forever preserved between the yellowing pages. I recently came across a box of letters while moving my art studio and was taken aback by their beauty and the strength of their language. The found letters served as an impetus for the work created during the residency.

Finding my letters motivated me to look for historical examples of correspondence between immigrants and the families they left behind. I was taken aback by how relevant some of the topics discussed in historical letters still are today. I shared some of my findings with my community and my students. Because I teach in an HSI Hispanic-serving institution with a large immigrant population from all over the world, I often share my students' life experiences. While talking to these young artists, I realized we all have saved examples of such correspondence. My students shared theirs with me. As an artist who works with language as material in my work, I wanted to use my discoveries in the new work and create it in a community with these young artists.

I began by selecting phrases from archives that I found particularly affecting.

“I received your letter but it doesn’t matter, since I don’t like anything in it” is the first line of a letter a Croatian mother was writing to her son in Minnesota around 1920. It is a particularly heart-wrenching letter; I was able to read the original. It really affected me, probably also because I have an ill mother who lives in Croatia and could relate. (In fact, my own daily communication with my mother, who has advanced Parkinson’s disease, has largely affected this project.) The letter's first line was so stark, and full of humor but also this dark feeling that may have been brought upon by the loss this family is experiencing.

“We are patiently awaiting a decision on our case.” comes from another letter, said to be written in the Belarusian language in 1950. It seemed like such a universal sentiment, relatable to me and most immigrants.

I letterpress-printed the historic phrases using wood type from my personal collection and the collection I have built at Northeastern Illinois University, where I teach art and design. I wanted my typographic choices to be both historic and timeless to match the language. The choices are visually varied, and I play with differences that also create a unified whole once all of the work is assembled in the space.

Letterpress printing is not the only method of print used in the space. I have worked in risography to print a series of prints, displayed in a descending line, that incorporate elements of Chicago landscapes and bits of writing by my mother and grandmother. Risography is also used to print some of the fragments of letters overlaid with mylar, letterpress printed with the words “There Are No More News.”

Some of the shapes in risograph prints echo typographic shapes in the adjacent works, most notably the large “U” shape on the  44" x 206” mylar print with digital and screen-printed words spelling out “ Tu si, gdje?” which translates to “You Are Here, Where?”

Throughout the work, the content plays with a certain absence and presence common to members of diasporic communities. People who live in a different country to the country of their origin or their family’s origin, often negotiate multiple geographic spaces as they inhabit different worlds. We are often living realities in parallel through push notices on our phones, Apps crashing, counting time zone hours, following the news, and negotiating cultural differences. This builds a fundamental sense of identity as a connection. This state is familiar to many people in the United States and is, in fact, one of the identifying characteristics of the United States. Since its beginning, colonizers depended on cheap labor supplied by immigrants. At a time when immigration and new arrivals to the country are heavily discussed in the news, the stories of connection between individuals and their places of origin seem as universal as ever.


I’ve been waking up at six a.m. or earlier. It depended on the cat. He would scratch our bedroom door when ready for his morning meal—softly, at first, and then with increasing vigor. I would get up to feed him, put on the kettle for my Yorkshire decaf tea laced with CBD oil and oat milk, eat my oatmeal with fruit, and take the pills that keep my body functioning every day. And then I’d message my mom.

Every day, the same message is on Facebook messenger. “Hi! I am sending greetings :) How are you?” The setup was simple. I wanted a calm introduction. Something chill. And a question that can be answered with a single click on the “like” button. Mom can’t type on the phone. Her Parkinson's is now so advanced that she can’t type. She also can’t leave the house or get her own legs on the bed. I video call her every morning. 

It is heavy to listen to her and heavy not to be able to help. I find myself reaching out from a self-imposed bubble. 

When I first moved to the United States, she would write me long letters, sometimes eight pages long. We had no internet then; it was a long time ago. I would write her two letters a week, so there would always be another letter coming to her. I kept all her letters. She keeps mine. 

American Universities and libraries are filled with letters from those who left their homelands to join and create their homeland. I read them voyeuristically. I pull statements that sound familiar. This could be me. Or you. But it isn’t. 

Has it always been this way? I go to the grocery store; I buy Bananko and Bananica candy, and, like an Eastern European, heavily processed Madeline cookie, it transports me to my childhood. My grandmother's pockets always contained that candy. The cashier offers me a knowing gaze. She speaks to me in English even though she is one of us. I can tell. She can tell. And in this acknowledgment and this denial, I feel like I am at home, home being some abstract bubble that travels with me or descends upon me on different continents and in different configurations of people. Hello Diaspora.

I want to write to you. The time difference keeps tripping me up. Call me on WhatsApp, on Messenger, Viber… Call me sometime.