Monday, August 17, 2009

Refugee images

Several posts below I included my thoughts on a local newspaper article about a refugee I knew, a young Karen man who came from Burma after several years in a refugee camp in Thailand.

He helped me at the furniture van and he's a very likable guy and these days I am teaching him to drive. This means I see him almost once a week or so. A few weeks ago, a group of people I know went out for "Art night," a once a month art festival where local arts of all kinds are displayed and shown off in an interactive manner. This gentleman was among us. With us also were some Chinese graduate students from the local University at Albany, including one who is an enthusiastic amateur photographer.

Here's the Times Union, local news image of a refugee, seemingly sad, unhappy, lost, in need of help. And that's what the article describes and the slant that the reporter put on it.

By contrast, here's the photo of the same person from the Chinese graduate student, someone who had never been told that this man had spent time in a refugee camp and just knew him as a cheerful recent immigrant from Thailand who was accompanying him on an interesting outing. (It's not at all uncommon for refugees to have difficulty identifying what country the come from in simple terms as they usually fled one to another and then came here. Therefore many Burmese refugees, including many Karen, will tell you they are from Thailand if you ask them what country they come from.)

Quite a contrast. Personally, I think the second one is a lot more like the guy I know. Then again, the Burmese refugees I know are all sort of like this. Very friendly, cheerful people who are a lot of fun to meet and joke with but when you poke under the surface and get to know them will tell you stories of deep and terrible tragedies and great losses which have marked their lives. It's an odd mixture that takes a bit of time to get used to.

[Note: I do take issues of confidence seriously. Then again, I also know that X, the gentleman in this picture, loves to see his picture displayed and was very pleased with The Times Union article and having his story told. He's thrilled whenever anyone acknowledges having seen it. I can't imagine this will upset him. ]

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