The Ache for Home

Selma Fernandez Richter

2011 - 2014

It is well known that the United States is a nation of immigrants. For over 200 years it has become home to a large number of refugees. Refugees are a specific category of immigrants, who have fled persecution in their come countries and usually spend years or decades in camps with no possibility of returning home or settling in the neighboring country where the camp is located. Minnesota has more refugees per capita that any other state in the United States.

For two years, I have been photographing some of the families and individuals who now call Minnesota home. They come from Burma, Bhutan, Eritrea and Somalia primarily. Oftentimes, I meet them the day they arrive or just a few days later. I am a witness to the building of new lives. I observe them improve their language skills, search to find jobs that match their specific abilities, the struggles of adapting to a cold Minnesota winter, and their efforts to maintain a cultural identity that is familiar and resonates. Above all, I have come to know the sacrifices parents make for their children and the dreams they hold dear for the next generation.

In addition to my ongoing photographic work, I collaborate with my subjects to bring forward their written stories of the past, as well as their hopes and aspirations for the future. This project intends to provide understanding and empathy.

Truly, my own process brought me to the people that I am photographing now. Though I am not a refugee, I am an immigrant. I decided to leave my country, Mexico, a few years ago when violence reached unprecedented levels. In Minnesota, I too, have found my home.

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  • Toy left on the couch of the Tamang Family, from Bhutan a few days after they arrived to Minnesota in 2012.

  • Cousins Eva Bhattaria and Pratikshya Dahal from Bhutan, were born in a refugee camp in Nepal. They arrived to Minnesota in 2010.

  • Hay Jea from Burma created this autobiographical cartoon about his own life story.

  • Ma Ngay Tah and her brother Saw Law Eh, were born and spent most of their lives in a refugee camp in Thailand. They moved to Minnesota with their family in 2011 where this photographed was taken the day after they arrived.

  • Eh Blut Paw photographed during a barbecue outside her apartment.

  • Ne Ka Day Mu´s graduation at Fairview Alternative High School, in Roseville, Minnesota.

  • Govinda Adhikari and his wife Yam Maya Adhikari from Bhutan in the kitchen of their apartment in St. Paul, Minnesota. They arrived to the United States in 2008.

  • Saw Bu Gay’s homework on Martin Luther King Day.

  • Planet Hook in his living room beneath the flag of the Karen State.

  • Robert Too was born in 2004 in a refugee camp in Thailand. His parents met and got married there. He and his family arrived to Minnesota in 2010.

  • Little Kristina visiting great grandmother Dhan Pyakurel in St. Paul, Minnesota. The family left Bhutan in 1992 for refugee camp in Nepal. They then moved to the United States in 2008. Kristina was born in Pennsylvania, where she lives with her parents.

  • A Karen grandmother and grandson spend time with neighbors outside on their front step.

  • Kamilo Mohamud sitting on the porch of her new house in Minneapolis. She and five of her siblings where born in a refugee camp in Kenya. Her mother and older brother were born in Somalia. They arrived to Minnesota in 2011.

  • Santa Bir, who was born and spent his life in a refugee camp in Nepal, photographed on his first day at Humboldt High School in St. Paul, MN.