New World: Immigrants and refugees photograph the experience of a new life in America
About 3 million refugees have resettled in the U.S. in the years since Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980. Recently President Trump suspended refugee admissions while security procedures are reviewed. In the Federal and Supreme courts, cases are made to ban or modify the administration's suspension. All the while immigrants and refugees living in America try to cope with a new life in a foreign country and culture. Most of us know little about their struggle to survive or the challenges they face, and so we have difficulty relating to them as fellow human beings. We collect the data and compile the demographics, but do we really know them? Mexican author Carlos Fuentes encourages us to "Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me." This is the heart of this exhibition: to open the archive of unfamiliar lives through photographs taken by local immigrants and refugees.
As we examine the images captured by the newcomers, we can begin to understand their challenges, their fears, their successes, and their loses. Often, they have to leave everything behind, including treasured family photos that connect them to their loved ones. The details of the immigrant and refugee life may be dissimilar to ours, but when we get a glimpse of the whole picture, we can begin to relate. And as we relate we can become compassionate.
The story of the immigrant and refugee and their families are often "boxed away" and out of view of most Americans. What we don't know, we don't care about. This exhibition is an attempt to open the box and reveal that which is hidden to most of us. The themes and narratives, once released from the archive in the form of pictures, will help us understand their experience. Their hopes, dreams, and desires are not that much different than the rest of America. They are our new neighbors, and we are encouraged to “Love your neighbor as yourself”. The photographs taken through the lens of the refugee and the immigrant oblige us to consider their story, and hopefully, compel us to understanding and compassion.