A new exhibit: “I Am My Story: Voices of Hope” is open at the Oregon Historical Society (OHS). It features stories by six African women who are war survivors.
The newest exhibition by The Immigrant Story is a collaboration with acclaimed Portland photographer Jim Lommasson and his storytelling project, “What We Carried.” Lommasson created photos of the objects the women brought with them while traveling from their homelands to the U.S., and asked them to write on the photos.
The objects, portraits and narratives connect viewers with the reflections, joys and fears of these young women. They shine a light on different facets of the Black experience, including the multiple layers of adversity experienced by immigrant women of color and survivors of war.
“This is our first live exhibit since before the COVID-19 pandemic began,” said Sankar Raman, founder of The Immigrant Story. “In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, we are thrilled to once again share pertinent stories– ones that speak to the Black experience – in a country with a lasting history of racism that continues to harm its Black residents, including immigrants.”
“I Am My Story is a collaborative storytelling project with six young African women who in their own words tell their stories of survival,” said Lommason. “They have witnessed unimaginable inhumanity and fled their homelands and have become our new Oregon neighbors. I have been moved by their courage and their ability to make new lives in America. The six participants truly represent the human spirit.”
Now, more than ever, the world needs stories of hope and resilience. The Immigrant Story’s intention in sharing these stories is to inspire viewers to persevere through trying times. In “I Am My Story: Voices of Hope,” the six storytellers show that it’s possible to triumph over fear and doubt, and ultimately overcome circumstances that are beyond their control.
Here are summaries of two of the women’s stories:
Beneath the star-studded sky of Makamba, Burundi, 6-month-old Olive Bukuru clung to her father’s hip as they fled on foot for roughly 100 miles to Tanzania. It was 1996, and they were Hutus fleeing genocide. Family members had been killed before their eyes during the violent struggle. “Lots of people wish for things to change,” Bukuru says, “but you have to get up and do something.”
One night when Divine Irambona was eleven years old, her family’s security guards warned them of robbers. “Give us all your money or the entire family will die,” the men threatened. Irambona, who was hiding, darted out between the mens’ legs, past bullets and ran to her neighbor for help. “I guess I was kind of like a hero at that moment,” she says. After resettling in the United States, Irambona, who volunteers with refugees coming to Salem, has maintained her courageous selflessness. “I believe that everyone deserves peace. Everyone deserves a home.”
Source: Oregon Historical Society