Of Two Worlds

When the Smithsonian Art and Space Museum commissioned me to create portraits of people in my region for the upcoming Faces of Our Planet Exhibition, I immediately thought about the unique city of Los Angeles, rich with diversity, intermingled sensibilities and nationalities. Close to nine million people live in the City of Angels, each culture adding flavor and spice to the olio that is Los Angeles. And because of this, I have been lucky to grow up and live in a city where so many faces reflect all corners of the globe.

I wanted make portraits that spoke to the diversity of this remarkable city, but still keep the work personal and authentic to me. I decided to photograph immigrants who are part of my life, who I know and connect with on a regular basis, immigrants who have enriched in my life in ways both large and small. These include students, neighbors, friends, small business owners, and more—all individuals I share a connection with.

The portraits are presented with a nod towards 18th century heroic paintings, as a way to elevate the Ellis Island, tattered-suitcase visual that comes to mind when we think of “the immigrant.” For this series, I asked each person to wear or hold something they brought with them on their journey to the United States. Whether a beloved child conceived on other shores, tribal scarves from Nigeria, a machete for night fishing from the Philippines, each object represents a significant personal connection to a place that was once called home.

This project gave me the profound privilege to better understand the immigrant’s journey. From interviews with my subjects, I came to better understand their DACA and Green Card experiences, learning the hurdles and hardships they endured (and continue to face) as people of two worlds—one foot rooted in the culture that shaped their identity, and one foot rooted in a country built on hope, I now have an even greater appreciation for their sacrifice and dreams.

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