April- June, 2014
In April of 2014, Picture Change conducted a project with refugee students in Nashville, Tennessee entitled “Redefining Refugee.” We partnered with ESL To Go, a division of the Tennessee Foreign Language Institute, to bring photography as an additional means of communication to these relocated students.
These students, who were between the ages of 22-40, had arrived in the United States with little more than a duffel bag of belongings and have spent the past few years adjusting to a new life in the United States. Thanks to ESL To Go, they were proficient in English and eager to learn advanced photography skills.
The photography they produced was original and intimate, showing ‘normal’ scenes of home with their own unique cultural flair. We asked them to write about life before Nashville, about the circumstances which led to them coming to the United States.
Stories of violence, injustice, and terror emerged; the only two options were to flee or be killed. They told these stories with tears, yet spoke of their new lives in the United States with a smile. Of course, they all said, they long for their home countries and the family they left behind, but they are grateful to be here.
We titled the show “Redefining Refugee,” as a platform to empower these students to share and educate Nashville and beyond on their new neighbors from faraway countries. Our gallery show at Houston Station in Nashville provided a deep, moving ‘Then and Now’ retrospective featuring the students' written stories and their current photography.