Jul 072015
Feeling Through Sound: An Interview with Willo Sertain

Willo Sertain is the founder and accordionist of Macaulay Balkan, the latest addition to Portland’s Balkan music scene, which had been, according to one active member, in need of new blood. Having seen Macaulay Balkan’s first three shows, part of the monthly Balkan Night at Atlantis Lounge/Mississippi Pizza, I can attest not only that they’re coming into their own as a band but that they’re making a difference. I chatted with Willo about her fascination with Balkan music. American Robotnik: Where does your passion for Balkan music come from? […] Continue reading >

Oct 212014
The Twin Peaks Project: The Strange and Twisted Dream of Twin Peaks Nostalgia

This blog post is part of a series of essays by writers and other artists about the influence of Twin Peaks on their work. Writer Shya Scanlon is collecting the essays in the Twin Peaks Project. *** Nostalgia is the immigrant’s permanent condition. Faced with the uncertainty of the unfamiliar present, not to mention the unknowable future, he turns to what he knows: his own past. Perhaps it was just a natural extension of the nostalgic condition when a couple of years ago I set out to write a […] Continue reading >

Oct 092014

Memory is potent…for almost any immigrant. As you scramble to piece together your future in an unknown environment, you only have the past and its customs to guide you. But the past and its customs are increasingly murky and useless. Faced with an unknown future, we retreat to the past for its safety. An inability to assimilate to their new homes—to abandon memories, language, traditions is the charge most often lobbed at immigrant communities. For immigrants, solitude and the trap of memory are central conditions. If our memories are […] Continue reading >

Jun 272013

[T]hese days we are wont to say not so much that all fiction is homesickness as that all homesickness is fiction—that home never was what it was cracked up to be, the haven of safety and affection we dream of and imagine. Instead, home is conceived of mostly as a conservative site of enclosure and closure, of narrow-mindedness, patriarchal attitudes, and dissemination of nationalism. And, indeed, the notion of “home” may have been, in recent times, peculiarly overcharged, as the concepts of “country” and “nation” have been superimposed on […] Continue reading >

Jun 112013

[A]s a psychological choice, the exilic position may become not only too arduous but too easy. Perhaps the chief risk of privileging the exilic narrative is a psychic split—living in a story in which one’s past becomes radically different from the present and in which the lost homeland becomes sequestered in the imagination as a mythic, static realm. That realm can be idealized or demonized, but the past can all to easily become not only “another country” but a space of projections and fantasies. Some people decide to abandon […] Continue reading >

Aug 172012
Music from the Heart: An Interview with Maria Noel

Maria Noel is a singer with two of Portland’s Balkan bands: Krebsic Orkestar and Kafana Klub. As I explore what compels natural-born Americans play foreign, particularly Balkan, music, I was curious to learn more about Maria’s experience. She chatted with me on a hot July afternoon. American Robotnik: How did you get into Balkan music? Maria Noel: I’ve always had an interest in folk music but for a long time I lacked focus. I guess I just needed to meet the right people. In around 1993 I met Dennis […] Continue reading >

Aug 112012
On the Peripheries of Imagination

Until now, Poland has covered an area in my head coeval with the dimensions of reality, and all other places on the globe have been measured by their distance from it. Now, simultaneously, I see it as a distant spot, somewhere on the peripheries of the imagination, crowded together with countless other hard to remember places of equal insignificance. The reference points inside my head are beginning to do a flickering dance. I suppose this is the most palpable meaning of displacement. I have been dislocated from my own […] Continue reading >

Jul 272012
Americans vs Balkan Brass: An Interview with Alex Krebs

Alex Krebs is the founder of Krebsic Orkestar, a Portland, Oregon-based Balkan brass band, where he plays the saxophone. Dubbed by Oregon Music News as “Oregon’s tango king”, he teaches tango, fronts the Alex Krebs Tango Quartet, and in August he will back up on bandoneon “the Frank Sinatra of tango” Alberto Podestá at a festival in Baltimore. He has a double major in physics and music from Reed College. He shared with me his passion for Balkan brass music at his Tango Berretin studio in Southeast Portland. American […] Continue reading >

Jul 252012
All Places Are Distant

‘Tis a childish humour to hone after home, to be discontent at that which others seek; to prefer, as base Icelanders and Norwegians do, their own ragged island before Italy or Greece, the gardens of the world… All places are distant from heaven alike, the sun shines haply as warm in one city as in another, and to a wise man there is no difference in climes; friends are everywhere to him where he behaves himself well, and a prophet is not esteemed in his own country.” —Robert Burton […] Continue reading >

Jun 092012

When men are scattered in a strange country, the ‘consciousness of kind’ with fellow countrymen has a very special significance….To many an immigrant the idea of nationality first becomes real after he has left his native country; at home the contrast was between village and village, and between peasants as a class and landlords as a class. In America he finds a vast world of people, all speaking unintelligible tongues, and for the first time he has a vivid sense of oneness with those who speak his own language, […] Continue reading >

Jun 052012
Homesickness and the Dream of Return: The Problem With Going Home

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of this review of “Immigrants and the Dream of Return”, a chapter in Susan Matt’s “Homesickness: An American History” about the impact of homesickness on immigrants between 1870 and 1920. Though the nature of immigration in that period differed from later ones, several of its characteristics apply to this day. Shifting from Homesickness to Nostalgia Even after they decided to stay stateside, a significant portion of immigrants continued to want to return. The longer they stayed, the more difficult the return. Matt writes, Despite the fact that they […] Continue reading >

May 272012
Facing Forward, Looking Backward

Yet, in reality, most immigrants did not completely shed their pasts or free themselves from homesickness. They faced forward but also looked backward, gradually integrating themselves and their families into American culture while still holding on to Old World traditions, customs, and connections. Many felt homesick their whole lives, and for most [the emotion] served a useful psychological purpose. Feeling homesick allowed immigrants to express fidelity to old lifeways and family relationships even as they sought new social statuses and opportunities. It was a bridge that connected their old […] Continue reading >