From refugee camp to America

By Ann Wang

This project is focusing on the Karen refugee families from Myanmar that have resettled in Lowell, Massachusetts. When they left their homeland for the U.S, family was the only element in their lives that did not change. But starting a new life in a different country is never easy, and it usually starts with an empty house. Which is why I chose to do the family portraits in their living rooms, by showing the decoration on their wall, one can estimate how long the family has been living in the house and how familiar they are with this country.  By their chose of clothing, one can have a glimpse of their culture. One thing I notice while doing this photo project is the absence of males in the homes. According to the families, the male would usually have to work late or work during the weekends, in order to sustain the family.

Without noticing the American public, there has been a steady flow of Burmese refugee coming to the U.S. According to Ann C. Richard, assistant secretary at the U.S state Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugee, and Migration, the world’s largest group resettlement program was initiated in 2005, with the support of the Thai and U.S government, for the large population of Karen refugee resident at the camps along the border of Myanmar and Thailand. To this date, the U.S has welcomed and settled more than 73,000 refugees from Myanmar.

According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, there are 449 Burmese refugees resettled in Massachusetts from 2012 to 2014. Among them there are about 30 Karen families living in Lowell, Massachusetts. 

The Karen people are an ethnic minority living in the south of Myanmar. They are culturally and linguistically different from the Burmese. Since Myanmar regained its independence from the British in 1948. A civil war soon broke out between the government, the Karen and other ethnic minority groups. The Karen people still have to flee their homeland to escape killing, torture, rape, land mines and forced labor by the Burmese military regime. More than 150,000 Karen people have fled to refugee camps in Thailand.