The Refugee and the Role of Art

The Refugee

Today, Europe and North America are sinking into crisis. Both continents are no longer able or want to accommodate millions of refugees because of its own internal conflicts. Immigration, refugees and racial issues are part of an important debate. People are creating deeper boundaries between them because of ethnicity, religion, cultures and beliefs. We constantly question our identity as a human race. To which group do we belong to and identify with? What if there’s none?

The focus is set on the journey from refugees’ persecutions in their home countries to camps. The hardest challenge is going through the process of being legally recognized as a political refugee or asylum seeker. This is the most mediatized part, ironically, creating a gap between our societies and the refugees. People turn a blind eye on the crisis because they feel disconnected from that reality. When in fact, there’s not really an us versus them. In case of persecutions or natural disasters, we would most probably do the same: to abandon our homes and risk our family’s and our own life to find a safer place to live no matter what could be the cost.

This crisis can be a daunting, disheartening, and confusing sequence of events to understand. People define themselves based on different factors, such as education, values, occupation, economic status, and religious affiliation. Having to flee the communities in which they were raised, refugees have to change many of these elements to acculturate into new societies. To turn from an individual with a recognised name, career, family ties and community connections, into the category of the “refugee” or the “immigrant” is unsettling. There’s a feeling of displacement, dissolution and non-belonging. After being uprooted, it is difficult to find that place of inclusion or acceptance.

The experience of being a refugee is one’s of invisibility, anonymity, lost of anchors, of home, of their identity, being unwanted, vulnerability and the hope or lost of hope. The reality of refugee camps is the removal of human basic rights.

The Role of Art

The insight and awareness created when viewers interact with the refugee experience in artistic spaces are important precisely because they have the power to shift political attitudes and preconceived mentalities, which are based solely on medias and stereotypes.

It shows the audience facets and aspects of the refugee’s experience in more than statistics and facts. To understand the crisis, the stories are crucial elements. It has the power to connect people in deeper levels than logic and reasons. Through art and people reaching out to refugees, they are no longer invisible or mere numbers or statistics.

On a Cusp

The more you travel, the more you realize how complex and how big the gap between identity and nationality is for a lot of people. One may be born in one place, spending their childhood in another and working in a third one. Then, how you identify yourself might be all the parts of all these cultures you integrated during your life. The degree in which you see yourself as belonging to a specific culture depends on your education, your family and community.

Wherever you are in the world, you are constantly questioned about the authenticity of your roots, either as an Asian or an American for example. You can be considered as a foreigner in your own hometown, birthplace and/or in the current city you live in. As any children of immigrants, we all struggle to relate fully to our family’s cultural identity because some values might clash or some habits might not work anymore.

The feeling of not belonging to neither or to both at the same time bothers me a lot. It is difficult to connect with your family, because of the geographical and cultural distances. Family tells you you’re not enough like them, society tells you you’re not assimilated enough. We are stuck between cultures in the present, straddling on a (very uncomfortable) cusp. However, it is also a strength because it allows us to find the good in different cultures and it elevates our sense of freedom, independence and open-mindedness. Since the boundaries are quickly dissolving in our modern world, we’ll have to realize that almost nothing is fully right or fully wrong in every culture.

Life doesn't owe you anything

I always had that mindset where I expected things to be naturally easy and simple for me. I guess those kinds of thoughts came from the fact that my parents always provided me everything I needed: a roof over my head, food every day, access to healthcare and education, etc.  They always protected me when things got difficult. Until now, I never realized that, subconsciously, my mindset is the reason I always felt so melancholic and depressed. It's kind of scary to think that, because of my attitude, even though I live in a good environment and have everything I need, I still found a way to be sad. I knew that it made no sense and felt guilty about feeling that way...until I made a connection between my state of mind and my beliefs.

I always believed that my new and exciting life was waiting around the corner. I just needed to be patient and work a bit. «Life is so harsh and cruel because I don't deserve everything that happened to me. Why bad things always happen to me? It's not fair.»

If I could go back and slap myself, I would. Really. It took me sooo long to realize that, but, hey, better now than never, right? My father actually taught me this before, but I thought I understood without really understanding.

Life is hard and unfair for everyone. Life doesn't owe you anything. The only fact that you are alive right now is a miracle. The good things you have right now is either because of people who worked hard for you or because you worked hard for it (I firmly believe in karma: if you did good things in the past, you earned your good luck). Knowing that hard times are not a curse, but the logical consequence of your actions and decisions is actually a huge relief for me, because I know I have control on my life. I understand that bad events and obstacles are only natural and totally logical in the course of life. What's not natural is to have more than what you actually need. Knowing that, we have all the reasons in the world to be happy. That is why we must be grateful for everything, work hard for what we desire and never give up.