The same evening I wrote the following text:
“We came with very few possessions. We left everything behind. Our life has been severed in two parts. We are torn between what we left behind and the new identity, in the new country where we try so hard to fit in. The people of the new country are our present witnesses. The people we left behind are witnesses of our past. They never populate the same reality. Inside us, their presence is felt like water and oil. How can we describe our past life? The way everything is in it’s own place and we are harmoniously part of it. There are no words to describe this feeling and the new language often fails us.
It is what prevents us from settling in. But it also hides inside us, like a treasure. It nurtures and enriches us, makes us wise and sturdy.
Sometime, at night, after a hard day, we open the old photo album and remember many people and stories.”
Later Stephanie, Kayse’s partner named the project, “Two worlds and nowhere”.
In the grant application I explained my intention as aiming to explore the duality of the immigration experience through testimony and image. A series of immigrants will provide stories about their life back home using images from their photo albums. This material, the way it contrasts to their present reality will show how far they traveled emotionally, how arduous the journey has been and what was lost and gained along the way.
We started the project in the spring of 2017 just as the hated Portland rain stopped. It was still very cold but the trees were blooming. Trees in Portland are vigorous beings, just like immigrants and refugees. I decided to use public parks as locations in part because they resemble golf courses but one doesn’t have to watch for flying balls and in part because parks are undisputed territories. Nature washes away all pretence. Parks are places with a real aptitude for democracy. Immigrants and refugees love parks because nature is soothing and it’s a form of recreation that doesn’t cost money.
Gaby Lasala shot video and recorded audio. I asked the questions. The following day I shot B-roll. I wanted to record the story of the park as it relates to the interview and sometimes as it counterpoints it. I was always fascinated by how random surroundings mimic our personal stories. How for example when pregnant we see only pregnant women everywhere or when sad everyone around is happy and this makes us so unbearably miserable.
We recorded eight interviews.
Stefana Berceanu, Baher Butti, Maya Muñoz-Tobón, Alberto Moreno, Horatio Hung-Yan Law, Salomé Chimuku, Monique Moss and Kayse Jama. They shared their private stories of being from many places and nowhere and becoming who they are through change and joy and hardship.
Along the way I realized, the interviews were about identity.
I used the photographs each immigrant/refugee brought as assets for short animations. I cut them out and introduced found images, started from the story of this images but ended in a place inside my head. Probably the animations corroborate more about my identity than of my subjects.
I used music from the freemusicarchive.org, a wonderful collection of eclectic music under creative common license.
The video equipment we used was borrowed from Open Signal, an unique Portland media center where arts are valued more than material possessions.
The project was funded by a grant from the Regional Arts and Culture Council.
I am grateful.