Yin’s Immigration Story – Tainan City, Taiwan to Acton, Massachusetts

Nine Generations

Yin can trace back her family’s history in Taiwan nine generations. She grew up the youngest of five children, and even though her family was not well off, she was the most spoiled. Her father read three newspapers a day and worked as a chemist for a wine company, so he was rarely home. 

“If I inherited anything from father, it is that I am pretty daring.” 

Yin’s father would often recite a haiku, which she translates: 

“I love life. I love food. So I’m going to eat blowfish – that would be the ultimate taste of my life.” (audio below)

Yin’s parents lived through Japan’s occupation of Taiwan. Consequently, they both spoke perfect Japanese and used it to communicate with each other. Yin, who didn’t learn the language, wasn’t able to understand. When Yin was a child, Taiwan was under Chinese control. Her school forced her to learn and speak Mandarin (Chinese). Today, Yin considers Chinese to be her intellectual language, and whereas Taiwanese is her emotional language. (audio below)

American Apples

Yin lived near a US military base that occupied the best beach in Tainan City. She knew little about America but quickly learned about the American dollar. It was incredible how much you could buy when you converted one dollar to Taiwan’s currency (NT). One item that she remembers being very expensive and sought-after growing up was the American apple. (audio below)

Yin studied English literature at a college in Taiwan. She met an American cultural anthropologist who was there researching, and they soon were married. After their marriage, he couldn’t find a full-time teaching job in Taiwan, so they moved to the United States.

I wish we had stayed in Taiwan.” 


It was the day before Christmas 1982 when Yin arrived in Connecticut. Yin, age 24, and her husband moved in with his parents. 

Yin had “feelings of suffocation” when she witnessed the first heavy snow of her life. She tried to convince herself that this cold fluffy white stuff is harmless and saw other’s having fun in it, but reflects, “I don’t think I ever got rid of that feeling of suffocating.” (audio below)

Yin’s father-in-law was a well-respected lawyer. He made sure everyone in their small, predominantly white, Connecticut town knew that Yin was his daughter-in-law. In retrospect, she sees how much she struggled to fit in. Her husband’s family – affluent and educated -contrasted with her humble upbringing. Yin always felt like they were above her, and this feeling became a source of constant stress. When her parents visited Connecticut, they found her in-laws to be arrogant, and over time, Yin started to see what they had seen too.

Artistic Expression

From an early age, Yin was passionate about art, and in high school, she would make seal carvings on tiny stones. Still, her parents never supported her artistic aspirations.  

After getting settled in Connecticut, Yin started traveling to New York to study sculpturing at the National Academy of Design. She remembers her studies as being fulfilling and intensive. This experience made her believe that she could be an artist.  

His Depression

Yin’s husband, a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology, was always in and out of the United States consulting for international development projects. Aside from being away all the time, he had ongoing battles with depression, something Yin tried to understand, but could not. 

“I’m a very upbeat person. I had never known what depression means. I was dealing with his depression.”

They eventually moved to Ithaca, New York, so that her husband could earn a second Ph.D. at Cornell. Yin spent her days alone in the apartment, isolated and without friends. 

“Enjoying life became very hard.” 

Yin started a master’s degree in fine art at Cornell but she dropped out after a professor accused Yin of working too hard and exhausting the school’s resources. (audio below)

Above: Yin standing with her “Our Goddess” Sculpture


Yin’s husband received an offer to work on an international development project with USAID (United States Agency for International Development) in Nepal. Yin encouraged him to take it. They spent five years in Tulsipur, where they had two children, and Yin spent a lot of time painting in the backyard. They had seven “servants,” who could take care of the children, giving Yin time to focus on her art. She was able to learn the ancient tradition of bronze casting from a Nepalese master. (audio below)


Yin and her family returned to the United States in 1988 and decided to settle in Massachusetts. Yin, curious about the academic side of art, started a master’s program at the University of Massachusetts. 

Yin’s loneliness increased, as her husband’s depression deepened. “We drifted apart gradually”. Yin threw herself into her art to distract herself from her failing marriage. Her husband would usually leave on four-month contracts. At one point, due to a commitment associated with the Bosnian War (1992-95), he left for a full year and a half. When he returned, it was only for ten days. 

Looking after her children, cooking, taking care of the house, and studying and creating art was a lot for Yin, especially after being used to having “servants” in Nepal. Yin felt like a single parent – she and her husband had stopped communicating. 

“He would always tell me when we were driving to the airport, ‘Yes, I think we need to talk’ Then, two months later, I would pick him up [but we never talked]. If you really meant to talk, you would say this to me when I pick you up at the airport, not when you are leaving.” (audio below)

In 2005, after 23 years of marriage, they separated. Despite the failure of their relationship, Yin says her husband was always a gentleman.

Quarry Life

Yin created a sculpture of Aristotle and Plato but felt like bronze wasn’t the correct medium. She imagined it in stone and reached out to a professional stone carver to see if he could teach her. He took her to a quarry in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, helped her choose a rock, and began to teach her the art of stone carving. Yin spent six months completing her first piece at the quarry, carving in all types of weather –  snow, freezing rain – it didn’t matter.

“I had children back home, so I would run home to cook, send the kids to school, and then run to the quarry.” (audio below)

Above: Yin’s sculpture of her “Quarry Father”

The family who owned the quarry didn’t charge Yin for using their land, and they went on to develop a strong bond. Yin calls the owner her “quarry father.” He would often leave one page of the bible on her stone and a piece of chocolate. She remembers him remarking to her, “You know I have never seen any man work this hard in my life.” Over the course of almost a decade, Yin carved at least 40 pieces in the Chelmsford quarry.

Container Man

In 1994, for the first time, Yin tried to create a sculpture that involved sound. After creating it, she wasn’t sure what she was going to do with it and stored it away. Then six years later, in 2000 at an art symposium, she met a Hungarian artist named Viktor. She was impressed by his ability to create instruments and invited him to collaborate with her. In 2002 she received a small grant and they were able to start their collaboration. While working on the project, their connection grew.

“I fell in love with him. He sees what I don’t see.”

In 2005 Container Man, which consists of 14 mechanical kinetic musical instruments and equipped with a sound system and multimedia projection capabilities, went to Europe. Yin felt refreshed being around Viktor’s creative mind.

Above: Yin standing with “Container Man”

Contemporary Arts International

Eventually, Yin’s “quarry father” told her, “You have got to find land for all these sculptures!” He helped Yin find a quarry in Acton, which she bought in 2003 for “a very good price.” The person who sold the land believed in Yin’s dream of using it to create art. 

While working as a Chinese court interpreter, Yin spent weekends with Viktor at the quarry cleaning it out.

“It was a very dirty jungle – millions of bullet shells, broken glass, 27 cars, household goods, cabinets, and chairs!”

When it was ready, they started constructing Contemporary Arts International – a large studio and residency house- from the ground up. 

“We built up this place with our bare hands.”

This mission of Yin and Viktor’s nonprofit is to promote the creation, understanding, and appreciation of contemporary art in the global context. On their land, visitors can find more than 100 stone and kinetic metal sculptures.

A Place to Stand

In hindsight, Yin feels lucky to have been so protected by her former husband and her father-in-law when she arrived in that small white Connecticut town. 

Above: Yin standing on her lookout over the quarry that Viktor built Yin for her birthday

Yin explains how she is enjoying the efforts of people who immigrated to America before her. She appreciates that those people established the rules and regulations that make the country the way it is today. It is for this reason that in American, Yin says she has willingly been “secondary.” Still, today after decades in the country, she feels like she has earned the right to raise her voice. 

“I now am contributing just as much as you to this country. Therefore, I have my place to stand, and you cannot move me.” (audio below)


To receive updates on the book release and exhibition of “Finding American: Stories of Immigration from all 50 States” please subscribe here. This project is a labor of love and passion. If you would like to support its continuation, it would be greatly appreciated!

© Photos and text by Colin Boyd Shafer | Edited by Kate Kamo McHugh. Quotes edited for clarity and brevity.

Sabato’s Immigration Story – São Paulo, Brazil to Northampton, Massachusetts


Sabato’s father met his mother, an industrial designer, in the mall where he owned a toy store. Their son Sabato was born in 1985, and when he was only one year old, they moved the family to Miami, USA. Sabato believes they had many reasons to leave and did so when his father secured a visa and some money to start a company. Sabato’s parents imported Brazilian semi-precious stones. The belief prevalent in the late 1980s and early 1990s within the Hispanic community of the healing powers of crystals fueled their business. Sabato’s parents opened concessions in Sears stores throughout South Florida, where they sold these stones.


When Sabato was six years old, his parents separated. His mom moved back to Brazil, and Sabato remained with his Dad in Miami. When Sabato was in college, his father remarried, and he has a 10-year-old baby brother, “who is amazing.”

Sabato’s mother wasn’t around when he was a child, and he remembers that he went through five years without seeing her. Currently, he gets to see her a few times a year.


Sabato grew up in Miami’s “multicultural immigrant vibe.” where he was able to interact with classmates from all over the world. As Sabato got older, he started to hate the superficiality of Miami’s “new money.” Sabato recognizes how Miami is different today with a budding street art scene and independent cinemas. Still, it wasn’t like that when he was growing up.


In the Miami of Sabato’s youth, so many people were undocumented. It was an easy place to get a job under the table. Like many of the kids he grew up around, Sabato didn’t know what the implications of not having papers were. Over time, he started to realize what it meant. Sabato couldn’t get a driver’s license but was able to secure a Florida state identification one day before September 11th, 2001, when the requirements changed.

“You become aware of these challenges. For people who grew up in the United States, it is just, ‘I’m 16, I’ll get my license’. These are things you assume you have access to, but you don’t.” (audio below)

Even though he heard that he couldn’t go to college because he was undocumented, he applied anyway. 

“You continue being a part of the community: you have friends, do American things, but when it comes to certain things like employment or financial aid you can’t.”

Because Sabato knew he wasn’t eligible for financial aid, he didn’t apply for it when applying for college. He worried about potential implications if he told the school he was undocumented: the chance of deportation worried his father. After being accepted to Amherst College in Massachusetts, the reality of not having financial aid hit:

“Holy shit! I need to pay $50,000 dollars every year to go here!”

Hustling Pianos

Because of his status, Sabato couldn’t find a job that would provide him with a salary, so Sabato and his father started a business flipping merchandise from auctions on eBay. What they decided to flip stemmed from Sabato wanting a piano to learn classical music. When his father went to a piano distribution center to find out the cost of one, he realized he could sell them on eBay and make enough of a profit to pay for three years of Sabato’s university degree.

“Only five percent of undocumented people go to college. I’m so lucky to have overcome that – hustling pianos!”

Audio: Sabato playing “Berimbau” / “Consolação” (Vinicius de Moraes / Baden Powell) on the piano


Sabato remained undocumented until 2014. With the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, the government deprioritized his deportation, and he received a work permit. Most paths to financial stability involve getting a full-time job, and finally, Sabato could do this. Here in Massachusetts, he showed his Brazilian passport, and that was enough to get a driver’s license. (audio below)


In 2001 at the age of 18, Sabato fulfilled the dream of going to Massachusetts to attend college.

“I wanted to go to a place where it snowed, the seasons changed and it was more ‘American’ – I was tired of Miami. I knew if I went to school somewhere where it was cold, my family would hardly visit me. That was part of the calculation. [laughing]”

Living in Massachusetts made him appreciate and miss Miami; however, following graduation Sabato decided to stay in New England.

Sabato has always been creative. He remembers getting into trouble in middle school for drawing cartoons when he was supposed to be paying attention to the lesson. 

At college, Sabato began taking portraits of his friends and doing video production. These two side hustles were extremely helpful considering that he couldn’t get a regular nine to five job.

Glitch Art

In 2011, a friend showed him a compact flash memory card in which the files were coming out glitchy. He was curious and fascinated by the missing parts and rearranged the pieces. Sabato began to create “glitchy” digital files on purpose [see the photos above]. This process of finding ways to corrupt or break photos or videos that he takes has become his artistic focus. His art has been shown at the Tate in London as well as featured in Time magazine. (audio below)

Meeting Meredith

It was through art that he met his wife, Meredith. Sabato was shooting an art show in Connecticut, and Meredith was one of the vendors. When he took her portrait, there was an instant connection. He still loves taking her photograph.

From what Sabato has observed, people who grew up in the States have all read the same children’s books or watched the same shows. He grew up reading Brazilian comic books and the bible in Portuguese, so some American pop-cultural references go over his head.

“I grew up differently and had different experiences.” (audio below)


He feels lucky that his father was persistent in his wish that Sabato would speak Portuguese as a child and maintain his language. He knows that for many immigrants his age, this is not the case. Throughout his childhood, Sabato translated for his dad, including the sermon at church and any legal documents.

Soccer played an important role in keeping Sabato connected to his roots.

“In 1994 the World Cup was held in the United States, and it was a big deal. I was really rooting for team USA. Brazil played the US in round 16 and I was rooting for the US even though Dad and everyone watching with us were rooting for Brazil. The US lost 1-0 and Brazil ended up winning the World Cup. That’s the first time I was proud to be Brazilian – being with that group, watching old games from the 70s with Pele and all the classic Brazilian soccer heroes. I’m part of this shared history which makes me really happy. In 1998, when Brazil went to the finals and lost to France, I was crying my eyes out.” (audio below)

Sabato feels like his Brazilian identity is becoming more defined with age, especially since moving to New England for college. Massachusetts is where his identity coalesced, and for the first time in his life, he felt “exotic.” (audio below)


Sabato currently creates advertorial content for personal injury lawyers as his day job. In the future, he dreams of going to graduate school for photography or digital arts/media and eventually working full-time as an artist.

“I dream of one day being in a position where I can live off my work.”

*Update: Since the interview, Sabato got his green card through his marriage to Meredith, quit his job with the personal injury lawyers, and has been working as a full-time artist. You can find out more about Sabato’s incredible work on his website.


To receive updates on the book release and exhibition of “Finding American: Stories of Immigration from all 50 States” please subscribe here. This project is a labor of love and passion. If you would like to support its continuation, it would be greatly appreciated!

© Photos and text by Colin Boyd Shafer | Edited by Janice May & Kate Kamo McHugh. Quotes edited for clarity and brevity.