Collaborating with an American Immigrant for The American Immigrant Project: Women’s Edition

Collaborating with an American Immigrant for The American Immigrant Project: Women’s Edition



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Marina Romashko, from the American Immigrant Project: Women’s Edition Photos by Katarina Kojic

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.

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1973, my parents brought the family to my father’s village in Serbia for the first time since he left in 1954. He had been granted U.S. citizenship by then as he had volunteered for the Korean War. After this trip in ’73, it would be 25 years before his home country would let him back in.

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  the 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 (2017) 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


Deep thoughts from a weekend of photoshoots

A few years ago, my best friend moved out of New York, leaving her apt empty for the remaining two weeks of the month. To grieve her departure, I turned her apartment into a studio for a weekend to test out new lighting set ups and a medium format camera on loan from another friend. I invited people from the school of Improvolution to come by and be my model in exchange for a photo. Each person was slated for a 15-20 minute session and as I knew some people would come early, or a session may run long I wanted to make waiting more interesting. There just happened to be sheets of packing paper lying around just asking to be used for a creative project.

On the top of one sheet of packing paper I wrote:

What’s your definition of success? Have you achieved it? What do you have to do to achieve it?

Brendan ©Katarina Kojic

Elaine ©Katarina Kojic

Ken ©Katarina Kojic

Jen ©Katarina Kojic

Vicki ©Katarina Kojic

Meredith ©Katarina Kojic

What’s your definition of success? Have you achieved it? What do you have to do to achieve it?

These are their answers in a random order.

1. Being Happy with yourself and the world around you. I have my “successful” moments. Still not complete. Looking at “the glass half-full” is something I have to do.

2. That you come up with a very distinct version of yourself. Getting there but a lot of diversions and distractions & people always want to bend you to their will.

3. Being happy. Do I look happy? The less I define it, the more I achieve it–I ask for what I want–when I let the universe play its part, it’s given me success beyond my wildest dreams.

4. Being true to myself allows me a level of success beyond my wildest dreams. And I’m getting there -it’s been a rough journey– but I’m making progress-baby steps.

5. I used to think it was money, then I found myself with none and found happiness, fulfillment and confidence instead. Success is being able o do what you want, when you want and not care what anyone has to say about it.

6. My Oscar! But living everyday in truth and using every minute wisely. Making a contribution to the world. And on my death-bed being able to say “I at least tried.”

7. Success has many variations… Re: personal life, health, money…etc! Success is being honest with myself, staying in the moment and working towards goals. It’s a process.

8. There is not one single definition, guess being successful is when you feel like you have a purpose and you have or are in the process of serving that purpose.

9. If what you do brings you joy. Even more so if it brings joy to others as well.

10. To find work that does not feel like an effort. Not yet. Search. Commit. Fail. Get back up. Search. Commit…

On the top of the second piece of paper I wrote:

“What’s the one piece of advice you got that has been put to use in your life the most?”

Joy ©Katarina Kojic

Miguel ©Katarina Kojic

Brock ©Katarina Kojic

John ©Katarina Kojic

“What’s the one piece of advice you got that has been put to use in your life the most?”

1. Life is not a dress rehearsal. Go after what you want even if it takes time.

2. You’ll be dead long enough. And nobody, nobody, nobody wants to hear your “if onlys”

3. Take you shoes with you when you go.

4. Be on the lookout for the spirit snipers, trying to steal your light.

5. Stay positive-surround yourself with positive people for they will push you to achieve.

6. Knowledge is power 🙂 (And have fun!)

7. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

8. It’s not just what you know but who you know. Relationships are everything.

9. When you’re on your deathbed looking back on your life, what will be the things that you cherish? ie. don’t worry about the small stuff.

10. Be realistic, not afraid.

And on the top of the third page:

Seems it may have been a hot and rainy kind of day.

30 Days of Love will be returning shortly.

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