ANY BOOK ABOUT IMMIGRANTS is a book about us all. Which is why Ulli Steltzer's photo essay "The New Americans," published this month by NewSage Press, touch es all of us in more ways than we know. Although it is a cliche to say we are a "nation of immigrants," it means far more than that most of us are descended from foreigners. It also means that the very tenor and nature of life in the United States have been defined in large part by the immigrant experience of displacement and loss, even for those of us whose ancestors arrived here generations ago.
In Steltzer's photos of Southern California, you see generations of immigrants caught between the tidal pulls of past and future, of one world and another. For most of them, the result is the creation of a third and inner world--the condition of exile. It is a world in which the sense of separateness, and even orphanhood, becomes more of a home for the immigrant than either the nation left behind or the America newly entered.
It is this perpetually repeated experience of immigration and exile that seems to color all American experience. It is, I think, one of the things that lies close to the heart of what most Americans seem to feel. Many of us, like the immigrants, seem to have ended up without a world in which we feel at home. The present seems to escape us. The good and true continually lie behind us or ahead. Always in transit, usually distracted, we are rarely satisfied with things as they are. "Home," for all of us, is something to be regained, created, discovered or mourned--not where we are, but where we dream of being.