Stronger Shines the Light Inside

A photography project on refugee resettlement in America. Photographs by Angie Smith. Words by Hanne Steen. 

 

In Idaho, land of huckleberry and white pine, strip malls and snow-capped mountains, it’s a surprise to see a cluster of Congolese women waiting at a cross-walk, wrapped in brightly colored cloth. You do a double take, and then the light changes and they are gone. Where did they come from? Where are they going? Why are they here?

Refugees who make it to Idaho are among the lucky few who have been given a second chance, a shot at the American Dream. Each refugee has endured a long and grueling screening process, often spanning years, and their stories, though harrowing to the point of unbelievable, are full of resilience, hope, and gratitude. Most have witnessed first-hand violence that has robbed them of family and friends. Many have gone hungry to feed their children, and often their children have gone hungry too. Rape and abuse are the norm rather than the exception. And yet, those who have made it to America possess a unique inner strength. This strength is a light, and their stories, should we care to listen, can illuminate our lives, our communities, our world.

Since the 1970s, Idaho has been a hub for refugees, due to its relative low cost of living and high quality of life. With a reputation for friendliness, salt-of-the-earth values, and conservative politics, Boise is not a city that immediately calls to mind cultural diversity. In spite of that—or perhaps because of it—Boise has become a model of what the refugee resettlement process can look like in America.

Stronger Shines the Light Inside is gathering photographs and stories from Idaho’s refugee community to be exhibited in downtown Boise in September. Join us in listening.