There are so many events in the world happening every day that give us a reason to be upset.We are each a part of multitudes of communities connected by a multitude of various touch points—sex, race, religion, age, marital status, health, parenting, science, birthplace–– each of which has their struggles and immediate needs. There are thousands of ways to affect change and make positive impacts in any of your communities, even in small ways. Still, it can feel immobilizing to choose where to put your attention and feel like you are making a change. I do not consider myself an activist, but I will share, like or “angry-emoji” with the best of them. On rare occasions I will even write an angry post. I think there are millions of people like me. And there are millions of others who don’t have the luxury to be so passively active.
The immigration ban moved me to action in a way I hadn’t felt before.
A fevered conversation with a dear friend, who is an immigrant, gave way to an outlet for our frustration and pain. Over one dinner, my friend, Marina Romashko (a kick-ass-get-things-done-and-gets-you-to-get-things-done chick), and I, put into motion the producing, shooting, designing and publishing of a beautiful book of photographs featuring 12 American Immigrant Women and their stories. We did this in the span of just one month, motivated to be ready for sale by International Women’s Day, March 21st. We set the proceeds to go to the ACLU, who had worked to get the ban over turned. And we wanted their stories to be celebrations. We reached into our networks and pulled together a team of collaborators and artists and storytellers, told anyone who would listen what we were doing and people stepped up and offered to help and guide and edit and participate. Pulitzer-prize winning photo editor, Stella Kramer was our photo editor. It is amazing how a stone can ripple the waters. And we had lots of people throwing their stones into the water of this project.
When I first heard about the immigrant ban it was on Facebook. I felt my face get hot and could feel my blood starting to boil. My mom was sitting beside me when I read it. I started sputtering and shouting at my laptop’s screen in disbelief at Trump actually issuing a ban on certain Muslim countries. What era were we in? I felt rage, as tears started welling, thinking of all the different cultures I was lucky to grow up around. I felt indignant on behalf of my father, my mother and a community of immigrants and their first generation American offspring. These people who struggled so much, never complained and were so hard working. I thought of these people sitting in limbo around the world, getting their last dimes sucked out of them as they have to pay for tickets to get home after spending their savings to get a US visa to come in the first place. These communities are major contributors to our society in culture and in wealth of brain and will power and in a sense of community. Their stories are often similar at points.
My father escaped from Serbia at 18, coming to the US as a refugee at 20. He didn’t talk about the specifics too much, but the part of the story familiar to so many— “I came with only $200 in my pocket”— we heard a lot. Education, living below your means, working hard, being productive and growing a lot of your own food were all things that seemed to be a common thread among the community of immigrants in our world. I’m not totally sure if that last one is true-but we were always picking a lot of weeds and green beans. I am more appreciative of this concept now than I was as a kid.
My dad was not fond of New York City and upon my defiantly choosing to move there in my early 20s, I over-dramatically tried to get him to understand the possibly deep-rooted reason: “I want the struggle of life for myself,” I exclaimed in tears! I don’t regret moving to New York, but in reality I was looking for an adventure and was willing to put up with being uncomfortable. In hindsight, I can see of course, I didn’t have any idea of what it meant to struggle, in the life or death sense of things, especially. But I was right in liking the challenge of prospering in New York City in some way. I didn’t understand the hidden reasons a father doesn’t share with his daughter, the horrors and fears of escaping ones own country and being a refugee, no luxury to choose to be uncomfortable, it’s just a fact. Until I watched this video on the refugee nation, I still didn’t realize the multitude of challenges refugees face. My dad died 12 years ago. He was our link to those realities and communities. The stories he and others shared were rarely about the specifics of the struggle, just that it was hard and “so what, life is hard.” He worked hard so we wouldn’t have to struggle. The reality is my parents scraped it together, saved, DIY, DIY, repair, repair, repair, and getting a drink at the rare meal in a restaurant, definitely a no. Yet, I always felt somehow we were secretly rich.
What does all this have to do with The American Immigrant Project? There are certain aspects I think exist with most immigrants– works hard, doesn’t complain, high importance on education, music and the arts, contribute to their communities, and oh yeah, are not terrorists. The fractioning of groups and pitting people against each other is a manipulation and distraction from something far worse. I couldn’t sit quietly while a bafoon elected to the American Presidency slandered and crushed the hopes and reputations of decent people. I feel so lucky to have had Marina as an instant supporter and community gatherer, making magic things happen. She is a woman of action and focus and determination. She carries with her the grit needed to survive and thrive in U.S. as an immigrant, and is still one of the lucky ones.
Our main goal of the project was to tell the success stories and celebrate the contributions of US Immigrants. In our process we found 12 generous souls who shared stories which are examples of the influences and contributions of real life American Immigrants in our community doing amazing things. We want to continue to expand this project to continue highlighting and celebrating different immigrants and their story. This is bigger than us and we are eager for others moved by the immigrant ban, to join in contributing to this project in whatever small way helps to keep this conversation alive.
We would love it if you bought our book and shared it with others.
I will be in New York City on November 15th presenting the photographs at Frank Meo’s Projections at Pauliner on the Bowery. I will edit the post to provide more details. We hope you’ll join us and some of the women featured in the book. We will have some copies of the book for sale there, or you can follow this link to get one ahead of time. Buy a Book, Proceeds going to the ACLU
A few month’s ago I participated in this awesome event by ASMP Oregon, called PDX Squared. They had a map of Portland and marked off 72 squares all across the city. As a participant, you get one square randomly assigned to you. I decided to use this map to determine where I would go to meet a great variety of people for this project. Yesterday, I enlisted my 15 year-old niece and she blindly chose 2 different squares to set up and find a few people for the project.
First up was Beech and 12th St. My niece, an avid reader, spotted one of those cute sidewalk “little free libraries” and it felt like a perfect spot. Setting sun, charming neighborhood. We met Casey and when he told us his profession, the spot felt meant-to-be.
Where are we: Alameda (NE Beech St and 12th St)
Profession: Pre-School Teacher (for about 10 years) Is also in some bands.
Nationality / Origin: Grew up in Portland. Dad from Portland. Grandpa from Iowa. Some cousins in Vancouver, BC.
Favorite spot in Portland:
I love driving across the Freemont Bridge because it’s really high up and has a nice view of Portland. I’m in some bands and have to go over it a lot to our practice space. That’s a common one that I do weekly and every time it’s like wow, it’s always so beautiful.
The Willamette River is always really fun. It’s really powerful. I feel like I always get a sense of history and it almost forces me to see into the past. It’s hard to avoid the deep connection with place along the river.
Least favorite thing about Portland:
Feeling pushed out of the city because of the affordability. Every year it’s a struggle to keep living here. Harder…It’s hard because it is an issue of desirability. It’s a beautiful place and has a lot going for it. But there is an influx of people and the housing market is out of control. At least for me. Like I said, I’m a pre-school teacher. We don’t make a lot of money.
What does success look like? Being Happy and feeling it.
Did you have a different sense of success growing up? Yeah I thought it had more to do with status and money, the common views of success.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
First thing that comes up is this funny time when I was probably in 6th grade. I was using the shower in my mom’s master bedroom for whatever reason. And she noticed I was only using one towel. And she was like, “You’re only using one towel? That’s gross! I use one for my head and one for my body. That’s crazy.” But since then, I’ve always used one side of the towel for my head and the other side for my butt.
As we turned onto Greenwich looking for a good shot or backdrop, we saw Rex and little Angus out on their lawn. There was a sweetness to the moment, I parked the car and introduced myself and the project. They were instantly game and while setting up, we met several neighbors, his wife, one of their twin new borns, and two dogs. There was a genuine neighborly vibe of friendship on this street, it was nice to be around it.
We interviewed Rex first and then took some photos. Two and a half year old son, Angus, also answered some of our questions.
Where are we: Greenwich Street in the Arbor Lodge Neighborhood
Name: Rex and son Angus
Res: Real Estate Agent
Angus: Play (his words)
Age: 48 / 2 and a half
Nationality / Origin: Scottish, Irish
What does success look like to you?
Rex: Being able to take good care of your family so you have some control of your time and you know your needs are going to be met. Financial freedom, but control over your time because of it.
Angus: Play with my toys, put them away and go to bed.
Did you have a different sense of success since growing up?
Well, you know, I graduated in the 80s and sometimes people at that time would talk about the “me” generation. And you don’t hear that so much anymore. But I also think the economy has changed too. And the projections that I had at that time- were things were going to be like this, (gestures with his hand held high.) And things turn out differently than you expect them to.
What does “this” mean? What was your wildest dream?
Well I was an architect before I got into real estate. And you have certain expectations of greatness.
Me: like greatness meaning being on the cover of Architectural Digest?
Rex: yeah. And to be honest, I’m very happy with the success that I enjoy. You know, I can provide well for my family, I’ve actually owned a real estate branch office in the building, we have a beach house, you know, we do okay. Laughs. But, the flip side of this, and this is something I’m working on actually, I’ve closed down my business. And focussing working with buyers and sellers because I want to have more control over my time. And I’ve actually started working with a new company and there is a team lead coach who is is going to help whip me into shape. So I can focus and manage my time better and spend more time with the three littles in the family. (In addition to 2 and a half year old Angus, they just had twins)
Favorite thing about Portland and favorite place to go in Portland:
Rex: The People / Anywhere outside
Angus: I got a tooth for daddy / I go somewhere
Least favorite thing about Portland:
Not enough lakes. Traffic.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Buy real estate, it will make you rich. I truly believe that. You know having a job will earn you a living, but buying real estate will earn you wealth. I tell every young person I meet, well I tell my clients of course, but I tell every young person, even when they panic, oh I can’t afford it… it’s okay, when you can, start setting aside some money. Rent is more expensive than buying a house with a mortgage these days. Which is crazy. So, it may sound a little cliché, especially because I’m a realtor, but I totally believe it and it makes me, really excited to work with people to help them that with that. I just gave someone keys to their first home today. They are two young doctors and I told them the same thing. They both have great incomes, I said, your incomes will earn you a great living, but you know your home will earn you wealth. Give it 10 years and it will double in value.
Angus: Cut a tree. (to be fair, he was stuck on a story about a branch that got cut down that he was heavily involved in. I don’t think he’s suggesting to cut down all the trees.)
Check out Rex’s site PortlandRealtyTeam.com
See more of my work at katarinakojic.com
After I did 30 Days 30 Strangers in NYC, I knew someday I would want to do the same thing in other cities. It was invigorating to talk to so many New Yorkers and I felt a greater connection to my city after doing it. I was so proud of how many of our “busy, pushy, rude” citizens agreed to be photographed. I had an 87% success rate of people I asked who said yes.
A few years later and here I am, Portland, Baby. I have been spending a lot of time here this year and have been missing my friends and have missed seeing the diversity of faces and people in New York City. I am super excited to start my new challenge of 30 Strangers in Portland and get to know this place that celebrates Weird.
1. 30 strangers. A stranger is someone I have never met and was not set up to meet thru someone I know.
2. I have to ask their permission. They’ll be asked to sign a model release.
3. Ask each person the same questions:
4. Perfection is the death of completion. To this end I will shoot/blog on the same day. Additional details, edits or links may be added later. This is a project in motion.
I packed up my bike with my questions, my camera and a few bits of gear and started riding to find inspiration for day one. I wanted to start with something iconic and as the sun was rapidly setting over the hills, I pedaled over to the Burnside Bridge. I had pictured setting up the shot with the iconic White Stag Sign in the photo. I didn’t like the images I was getting and the sun was going down so I quickly reframed and waited for someone to pass by.
A moment later, friends, Rin and a shirtless Dead Letter, passed me on the sidewalk. I loved their look, and when I asked if they would let me photograph them, they were immediately game and wanted to help welcome me to Portland. They were on their way to kill time looking at art before meeting friends, so this was a great substitute.
I loved talking with them. They were a great start to this project and I could have spent hours talking to them. Strangers 1 and 2.
Name: Lorin, “Rin” to his friends, Lorin to his clients
Profession: Marriage and Family Therapist, mainly serving the LGBT community.
Nationality / Origin: German/French/Swiss/Native American
What’s your favorite thing about Portland? It gives you lots of permission to be weird. You can be a weirdo in all these crazy ways. Like for me being queer, and being non-monogamous, and all that shit– started in Portland. Getting introduced to the burning man culture and all these other things, started in Portland for me. It gave me permission to not be normal in a lot of ways.
What does normal mean?
It means something different in Portland, but for me it meant fitting in with the people around me in Arizona, which meant a lot of financial success a lot of fitting into the norms of being married the norms of having a house and dogs and kids and all these things.
Would you say that their definition of success didn’t match your own so you felt out of place? Yeah, and I didn’t know what else is out there.
What is your least favorite thing about Portland
That you find out over time that there’s permission to be weird but it’s all the same kind of weirdness. There are Norms within the weirdness -which is kind of uncomfortable thing. So it’s like- the acceptance of being in anyway traditional is real low out here. If
that makes sense. The liberal people haven’t really learned how to help each other or support each other and there’s no helping people that are not considered to be kind of like neo-liberal and queer and you know whatever thing that people feel politically connected to it, they kind of get polarized against the opposite thing.
What does success look like?
When I was not feeling successful, success to me felt like, having a house, being financially able do to the things I wanted to do, and now that I feel more successful I think it’s more about connecting to wherever I am at the moment, being with whoever I’m with and experiencing what I’m experiencing and that feels more successful to me.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
“I need to shut the fuck up because it’s not about me.”
Do you remember who said it to you?
Yeah, actually, it was my practicum supervisor and she is amazing. Basically as a therapist, especially you’re always trying to get in there and make people happy. So you’re trying to make people happy and they’re not, they’re sad, but therapy is more effective when you can be sad with the person. So it takes a long time to learn to kind of put yourself on a shelf and not try and change their mood, but just be with them and whatever they’re feeling and where they’re at. and I think that’s good advice for friendship or whatever is -that most of life is not about you and once you accept that it is easier to handle your distress over it.
When you say it’s not about you, do you think the pull to wanting to have a solution to a problem is your ego going, I’ve got the solution and I’m right?
Yes, always. And it’s not just for therapists, we’re all trying to force other people’s experience into our narrative and it doesn’t work, most of the time.
Name: Dead Letter
Profession: Building Slave for Creative Space and Industrial Arts Factory
Nationality / Origin: I’m a Jew- Descendant from the Vilna Goan.
What’s your favorite thing about Portland?
The Bridges, everybody loves the bridges. And passive aggressive-ism.
What’s your least favorite thing about Portland?
Portland is filled with amazing, caring, leftist liberals who have not yet flipped over to actually helping each other, rather than fighting against something.
What does success look like?
For every person success is moving up a quantum where you have more, time, money, and energy than you did in the quantum before.
Best Piece of Advice?
Two things. 1. Embrace all information flow. (People come at you with something; you say, yeah absolutely instead of nu, unh.) and 2. Everything takes 5 times longer than you think it will.
Do you remember who said it to you?
So that’s not really advice, is it, since it comes from yourself?
Mmmhmm. I spent years crafting it so I could have one pin within which to frame all of the rest of the stuff I was trying to say.
And was there anybody else that influenced… that contributed- I get what you’re saying, there is the zeitgeist, where suddenly everyone the kind of same…Was there anyone else that influenced that, where the advice was similar.
I’ve met a lot of other me. And they have other versions of the thing I have that I’m trying to work on in my PHD work and all, very similar. And many a times they go, “I INVENTED THIS!” and I believe, probably not. I didn’t invent it. The best one can argue is that one made a localized compression. A localized way of saying it that fit now and was crisp. And so, I do agree that everyone is saying the same thing. The phrasing is something I worked on to help me note that everyone was saying the same thing. There is an on-going embedded conversation all over the left and all over the right. Which is, How do you talk to people so they do stuff? And to answer that one has to ask, How does a group of people learn stuff? So “embrace all information flow” was the first prescriptive that says, if you want to meddle, take what’s there without resisting it.
I wanted to offer a clarification on something you were hearing. Men, specifically, have an impulse to meddle. And the sitting with and allowing, isn’t so much the way you were phrasing it as-Is it ego? It’s not so much that you think you have the right solution, it’s that you can’t just let it be without fucking with it. That everything needs to be changed!
Right, like something is wrong with it, something is inherently wrong here.
And the phrase that goes with it, is “To change the world, change oneself. Cause this is what you have access to. So in therapy, to change them, change me. Sitting here. Change my demeanor, change my behavior in the room. Cause then they’ll change. Versus, telling them to change, inhibits their own motor control, their agency.
I am on the other hand here to meddle.
I have a cantankerous old man yelling at me from the end of my life. And so if I don’t do it, then my angry old man yells at me. I live in what’s called past future perfect tense. In the future how will you feel if this happens now. How will you feel about this later.
I met Forrest on 44th street just before 9th ave. I just loved the way he looked against the graffiti on the garage door. I photographed him and then asked a few questions.
Profession: Starving Artist (http://forrestgerke.com) / Bookkeeper
Nationality / Origin: American Irish & German
What is love? Love is… I don’t know that’s none of my business. (laughs) I’m still trying to figure that one out.
What about in a bigger sense, how do you define love. How do you know when you love somebody, How do you know when love is coming your way: I guess it’s when you’re willing to give something to somebody without necessarily expecting anything in return and when doing that is enough to make you happy, with that agreement, I guess that can kind of define it.
What is a time when you had that experience, either you’ve given or received knowing that nothing is expected: With my family, as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten a lot closer with my parents and I went thru a kind of difficult medical situation recently and was unsure of how to handle it and where to go and my parents were just so giving and didn’t ask anything, didn’t expect anything from me so that was something that really kind of made our relationship-well it was good at that point anyway, but it kind of propelled it even further. So that was good.
What’s your favorite thing about your family, now: My parents are pretty unconventional, in a lot of ways, they were kind of hippies, but they always keep an open mind and always try, rather than finding what’s different about people, they try to find the commonalities and I try to learn from that and use that idea in my own life.
Did they encourage you towards becoming an artist: Yeah, it was something that I always wanted to do and they were always supportive. They were pretty up front with me that it wasn’t going to be the easiest choice to make and it wouldn’t be that lucrative but they knew that it was something that was important to me and so they were always supportive.
…I work a day job, 9-5 and my evenings and weekends I try to spend as much time working on art and music. So I’m always busy, I’m never bored. I always have plenty to do.
When did you decide to become an artist: Age 4
What did that mean to you: I started drawing pictures… I would draw for several hours a day when I was a little kid and so it was just something I enjoyed doing so much, I couldn’t imagine not doing that every day. So I guess when I was really young I knew that that’s what I loved to do.
Was there a particular kind of art that you wanted to be doing in art school: I’ve always liked to draw people and portraits, so I focussed on figure drawings and figure painting and so I think, art school exposed me to different materials and different ways of doing things and ideas, but I still kind of stuck with working with people and portraits.
What do you like about working with people: I like that if you draw a person it can go in two directions. you can either do something really specific about a time and a place and get something that’s sort of unique about one individual or if you do something that’s more like figure drawing or painting, you can kind of divorce it of any kind of time and context so you can communicate something that’s a little more universal and emotional and I like that.