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letter from the american cousin

Gwenn Seemel
Letter from the American cousin (Filipino-American, Celeste)
2008
acrylic on canvas
30 x 24 inches

$2000 (Email me for details.)

When I created this piece for Apple Pie, I was making a lot of mail art. Sometimes I was making a new piece to send out, like the envelope that’s featured in this blog post, but I also unstretched and folded up some old portraits of art dealers to make envelopes for the subjects. One example of that remixing of my own art is here, and, also in that article, there is a painted envelope that looks like an American flag. That piece was later used in an advertisement for the Gap, shown here.

To learn more about the making of Letter from the american cousin, please visit this article and this one too on my blog. And below please find the subject’s answer to this question: what does it mean to be an American?

A penny saved is a penny earned,
advised a wise man in his almanac
My grandfather and my grandmother
Raised four kids and two nephews
On a teacher’s salary and the wages of a city worker
The whole family would sleep in one place
So they could rent out the other rooms
To help pay the bills
They would go to the market
And haggle over cents
Over vegetables
vegetables!

When my father was in middle school
He discovered a gift
Prowess on the basketball court
Teammates deferred to him
enthusiastically
Ready to crown him captain
“Can I join the team?” he asked his parents
But money didn’t flow
Like the Mississippi
They could not afford to buy his team uniform
Nor the shoes
My father watched the games from beyond the lines
Instead of playing them

My mother and father
Started their life together
Making do with what they had
Bought second-hand winter coats
And dusty furniture that didn’t match ineffable
And their kitchen utensils
From garage sales
All guts, no desperation

And then there’s me.

If I needed utensils that badly,
I would go to McDonald’s for the free disposable kinds
I would never buy used spoons
from a garage sale
And I would never be denied playing on a team
Simply because we couldn’t afford the uniforms
Ludicrous
In the universe I inherited, somebody can make it happen
I am the lemonade stand
I’m as bankable as Girl Scout cookies
I’m as unavoidable as the Superbowl
I’m inevitable
This land is my land

- Celeste