The Kennedy Center

An American Tapestry

About the Work

John Adams Composer: John Adams
© John Adams

An American Tapestry

music for the film
Directed by Gregory Nava
Produced by Barbara Martinez-Jitner
released on the Showtime Cable Channel

"An American Tapestry", Gregory Nava's trenchant but human examination of the American migration experience, was commissioned by the Showtime television channel and first screened in November of 1999. For this film, John Adams composed over an hour of original music.

In this 90-minute documentary, Gregory Nava, the well-known and much celebrated Hispanic filmmaker ("El Norte", "Mi Familia", "Selena", etc.) explores the very personal accounts of Americans from a variety of enthnic and racial backgrounds. An elderly Polish Jew relates his arrival at Ellis Island as a seven year-old boy in the 1920's. A Chinese-born grandmother from Oakland, California recalls her own childhood arrival on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay in the early 1930's. Unlike the Ellis Island experience, which was a happy and welcoming one, her arrival thrust her into an atmosphere charged with racial tension, discrimination and hostility. An African-American woman, the daughter of a slave, describes her childhood on a sharecropper's farm in Alabama and her eventual migration to Chicago. In the film's most emotionally powerful moment, he follows a young Mexican woman as she risks her life clandestinely crossing the border into the U.S.

Adams's music underscores the personal narratives of these remarkable people, providing a backdrop for an odyssey that continues to form the nature of the American cultural experience.