Immigrants and their major contributions to the fabric of American life are going to be celebrated at the New American Festival — the first festival of its kind — in September.
Author Padma Lakshmi will kick things off with a keynote address, touching on the achievements of immigrants, and sex therapist and author Dr. Ruth K. Westheimer and comedian, writer, and producer Hasan Minhaj will also speak about their personal experiences on Sept. 14 and 15 at NeueHouse at Madison Square.
But it’s not just about panels and discussions — comedians Ronny Chieng, Aparna Nancherla and Aminatou Sow, among others, will take the stage for a Comedy Central-sponsored stand-up hour, as will musical artists Japanese Breakfast, Ruth B., Baby Yors, Mannywellz, Bohan Phoenix, and Ballet Hispánico, and others, who will perform live.
There also will be an installation that looks like a sitcom set, where festivalgoers will be able to tell jokes to artificial intelligence, which will sound off a laugh track when its algorithm deems a joke to be technically funny. The Laughing Room, by Jonny Sun (of "BoJack Horseman," and author of "Everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too") and artist Hannah Davis, is meant to question what humor is and how it can be used to open conversation between people.
"We are all wildly excited that we’ll have a true cultural cornucopia here," said Katherine Steinberg, the director of content strategy at New American Economy, which is organizing the festival.
New American Economy (NAE) is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization that uses research to influence immigration policy throughout the country and educates communities about immigrant contributions to American culture.
According to NAE’s recent analysis of the 2017 American Community Survey, more than 400,000 immigrants are working in creative or artistic occupations, helping support the nearly $1 trillion creative industry sector in the U.S. There are more than 25,000 immigrant actors, producers and directors; nearly 23,000 immigrant musicians; more than 17,400 immigrant photographers; and more than 16,000 immigrant writers and authors nationwide.
Steinberg, who has been with NAE for more than a year, felt that there wasn’t any single event that "brings it all together," she said.
"I haven’t seen anything like this before and wanted to create a space where we can feel the full impact of immigration in every area of our culture," she said. "That is, truly experiencing the fact that immigration is the key to who we are."
NAE’s goal is not only to celebrate immigrants but to also open conversation in a way that speaks to many — through art and music. It also wants to provide a welcoming and supportive space for immigrants themselves and give them a platform to talk about their own experiences, without pushing a political agenda except only to inspire people to vote, Steinberg said.
"We would love to help people hook into immigration as one issue they take to the voting booth with them," she said. "NAE has a national platform, and what good is a platform that can’t elevate the voices you want to?"
After it finishes in New York City, the festival will travel to cities across the U.S., including Anchorage, Atlanta, Boston, Kansas City, Nashville, Houston and Oakland, among others.
"The New York crowd is a different crowd than in some other places," she said. "When people think of immigrants, they probably have one specific thing in mind, but the truth is, immigrants are all new Americans and we should welcome them as such."
If you go: The festival will be held on Sept. 14-15 at NeueHouse at Madison Square. Tickets for individual events are $25-$45 and a limited number of all-access day passes are available for $125 at newamericanfestival.com.