In the Spanish language the English verb “to be” is translated with the two distinct verbs, ser and estar.
The verb ser denotes to be, to exist and experience oneself as distinct from others, not to emphasize our uniqueness but as a simple point of perspective. We “are” therefore we see the outside world from within. We know that we are conscious humans while recognizing we are part of something much bigger. We know instinctively that we are individuals within a greater sphere.
The second verb is estar which denotes the state of being in a location, a place, a situation, or in a time, i.e., “to be at”. When we use estar we are mobilizing the self and transposing that outward projection into a scenario, a set of events or a time period. Estar is all about presence. We “are at” and therefore we act, we interact with others, and other things over time.
These two verbs are useful when reflecting on the central theme of the VLACC series Re: location: How the immigrant experience has shaped Latin American artists working in Canada”. They allowed me to frame how I talk about my personal experience being a person who came from away. This helped me to focus my lens on what it means to be a Latin American in Canada and what is has been like to be intimately embedded in the cultural milieu that is contemporary Canadian culture. Ser and estar are deeply intertwined with the discovery of the self, heritage, and otherness. They are compass coordinates in a complex exploration of personal truth and shifting perceptions that have eased my artistic integration into Canada.
Immigrant artists often struggle to find a place for their cultural output in their new environment. Some artists arrive with an expectation that culture can be transplanted elsewhere without understanding the host culture environment. to This can lead to an alienation that is, more often than not, self-imposed. The immigrant artist would be wise to welcome interactions, to seek and nurture local friendships and acquaintances outside her/his safe cultural circles that can help reveal the underlying motivations of their new cultural environment and therefore smooth the rough edges of integration and assimilation. The new immigrant artist must first enact the ser, the being, in order to absorb the new reality.
I am most comfortable when maintaining my focus on an artistic pursuit of discovery, the honing of one’s craft. Although I am equally inspired by the work of my Latino fellow artists as I am from my Canadian colleagues of all sorts. I feel most grounded when I put aside pre-conceived notions of how heritage and national identity supposedly shape your art and simply pursue the evolution of, in my case, rhythm and the experience of musicality and the feelings they elicit. To be, “ser”, is for me to exist as an artist irrespective of tradition and heritage, a freedom not bound by the expectations of others but focused on touching people’s lives through an original, consistent, disciplined output and a mind open to creation and innovation. To “be at” or estar is the combined reality of my interaction with others, the push and pull of artistic dialog and human interaction.
My cultural roots show throughout my musical work, yes, but my strongest cultural catalyst has been the Canadian musical scene itself, its artists and especially its audiences. My music, my work, and my being have been profoundly shaped by the experiences I have shared and been witness to in my interactions in this my adopted home country. I have learned many lessons from those that believed in me, supported my quest, and shared their love of life, logic and order.
And so, as the verb ser, “to be” implies, we can, as global citizens, see outside ourselves, we are individuals in a much greater sphere and deploy that which is within to examine that which is out there. Estar, that is, to “be at” completes the picture. Our genuine interactions within our Canadian cultural milieu will determine our level of success.
Think, listen, think, engage, think, be at.
Sal Ferreras, 2022