By: Megan Crutcher
We set forth on this project seeking to break prominent narratives of African refugees in the United States and Pittsburgh—from the national security myth, to the ‘model refugee’ trope, to the focus on refugee hardships over successes. We asked how and why African refugees have come to Pittsburgh, what their experiences with America have been, and how they see Africa, family, the USA, home, and the refugee crisis in general. We asked narrators to guide the story and to share whatever they wanted us to know. We interviewed factory machine operators, mothers, fathers, students. The stories that follow will make you laugh, make you cry, transport you to another place and time, and ultimately—we hope—spur you (whoever you are) to action. We welcome future or alternate directions to this project.
We asked for connections. What we received were enduring, vibrant partnerships with narrators—people who have faced unspeakable hardship yet hold incredible hopes and dreams for life in America. And despite the historic instability forced upon them, most of the narrators saw America as a home and Americans as people who supported and welcomed refugees.
Narrator Celestin spelled it out the best. Why did we embark on this project? Why African refugees in Pittsburgh? He said,
"Because the communities down there is suffering. Refugees in the camps. Like, right now, I know there are one hundred plus. Like Uganda only is carrying 1.3 [million] refugees. So that’s too much. Whereby you can find, like, when they put the ban of the United States not receiving more refugees—I don’t know where they are going. I don’t know how they will survive. Because, I myself, I have my in-laws there. My brother in-laws, my sister in-laws, my father, my mother in-laws, they are all still in Africa. They have their cases, but they have never gone anywhere because of too much back, always. Nothing happening to them. So you find we are worried of how the life continues, and yet more refugees are coming in from Democratic Republic of Congo. Up to now, people are still fighting. People—more refugees coming. So life is not easy as I talk right now. When you go to different countries, you find people are suffering. Not only Congo but also other refugees. As I talk to you know, I remember South Sudan is in trouble. Many refugees are coming in. As I talk to you now, many people from Syria, they are now fleeing from Syria to different countries. So it’s not only Congo, it’s not only Sudan, not Syrians, but different refugees coming from worldwide. So when I see like all that one happening, when you go on Google, you go on the news, you find a lot of things happening, many people becoming refugees."