Mary Kang moved to Austin from South Korea with her family 13 years ago, but a University of Texas photojournalism class opened her eyes to the Asian-American refugee community within her own city limits.
On Saturday, the Asian American Resource Center (AARC) opens its doors and inside will hang Kang’s photographs of Nepalese and Bhutanese refugees living in Austin. Kang, a UT advertising alumna and former photographer for The Daily Texan, spent three years off-and-on with refugee families. She said the people she met inspired her to become interested in her own cultural background.
“I have a choice to retain my culture. Sometimes I’m like, ‘Well, I live in America now,’” Kang said. “It’s easy for me to forget my own traditions.”
Kang’s photos on exhibition at the AARC offer a glimpse into the lives of Asian-American refugees in Austin. Kang, an immigrant herself, understood the difficulty adjusting to a completely new country, but she notes that her family chose to move to the United States while the families she spent time with did not.
“They are scattered around and they don’t have their own country to belong to. They do everything together because they are really afraid to lose their culture,” Kang
said. “I thought the photo story could help in archiving their stories.”
Lizzie Chen, a visual storyteller for a local nonprofit, also has photos in the opening exhibit at the AARC. Chen followed one refugee family from Myanmar that spent 10 years in a Thai refugee camp to create her series “Strangers in a New Land.”
“Most people, when they do photo essays, they tend to focus on the sad part of the story,” Chen said. “But I didn’t want to only document that struggle. I wanted to capture the beauty. These people have hope. They do miss Myanmar and Thailand, but they tell me all the time they’re so much happier here.”
The theme of the opening exhibit at AARC is “Asian Texans: Untold Stories.” While both Kang and Chen’s photography showcases some of these stories, Lesley Varghese, executive director of the AARC, said they were chosen because they are young Asian-American women contributing to the greater Austin art scene.
“I think showing the diversity of interest and skills in our community is important because I think there are a lot of stereotypes about what Asian Americans do and are good at and interested in,”
Varghese and board member Richard Jung hope the AARC provides a jumping off point for more young people to pursue their own creative projects.
“I was surprised we didn’t have that before, because I just think there are so many immigrants coming to America from Asia’ and there’s a lot coming to Austin as well,” Kang said. “There are a lot of stories that are not being told, so I just think it’s important to archive these stories and celebrate the cultures.”
Editor’s Note: In the interest of full disclosure, both Kang and Chen are University of Texas and The Daily Texan alumnae.
Ayan Ali, 15, watches prayers from the side of the Crockett Center with her sister, Nimo Ali, 13, at the Eid al-Adha communal prayer organized by the North Austin Muslim Community Center, Renaissance Academy and Masjid Ibrahim. The two attended the event with their parents to which an estimated 5,000 showed up. (Sept. 12, 2008)
Oscar Paiz, Barton Springs Nursery employee of three years, removes weeds from the nursery’s agave farm in Weberville, Texas. The nursery has seen an increased demand for vegetable plants and fruit trees during the economic downturn. (Nov. 25, 2009)
Doug Moreland works on a custom wood sculpture at the Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo in Austin. Moreland and his co-workers at Cattlelacs in Manchaca use mainly chainsaws with small blades to carve works such as this eagle. (March 23, 2006)
Michael Foulk, member of the Austin band Widows and Orphans, enjoys a drink and a cigarette while reading a book at Spider House Cafe. Foulk was killing time before picking up a friend from work and said he “was just trying not to fall asleep.” (July 12, 2007)
Events surrounding the Lonestar Rod and Kustom Round Up brought thousands of people to South Congress Avenue in early 2010. Marathons, parades and conventions attract visitors from around the country to Austin, helping to strengthen the local economy. (May 12, 2010)
Two men affix inflatable Christmas decorations to the top of the Millenium Youth Entertainment Complex. The Millenium Center is located in East Austin on Rosewood Street and provides area kids with a place for recreation such as bowling, roller skating and movies. (December 4, 2008)
On Wednesday, the first day of Ramadan, Abdul Rashid Asadullah (left) meditates and recites his Salah, or ritual prayer, in the Islamic Center of Greater Austin while kneeling in the direction of Mecca. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset to grow closer to Allah through prayer and worship. (September 13, 2007)
Students scuba dive at the Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center during their basic scuba diving class. By the end of the course, students can become NAUI certified after an open water dive at Lake Travis. (April 15, 2008)
RTF Senior Fatima Carbajal tests an art installation in the stairwell of the William Randolph Hurst Building. The final project for the RTF Video Installation course is designed transform the image of the Communications Buildings by covering them in projected light. (May 7, 2009)
This is Mary Kang and Andrew Torrey, your Summer 2011 Daily Texan photo editor and associate photo editor. Here's a little compilation of our favorite wild art, or photography shot around the University and the world, for the month of June.
Check back at the beginning of every month to see ten of the best pictures from past and current Daily Texan photographers.
Mary Kang & Andrew Torrey
Peter Franklin | Daily Texan Staff
Teenagers illegally dive from the Steeplechase Pier, Coney Island while watching for police who may stop them.
William Paul Wentzell | Daily Texan Staff
Jian Yang, a Plant Biology graduate student, makes a call on his cell phone outside Wanfu Too restaurant on Barton Springs Road.
Jeffrey McWhorter | Daily Texan Staff
Joey Gutierrez, 14, gets his haircut by Jeremy Lopez, 19, at Booker T. Washington Terraces in East Austin. Lopez, who graduated from nearby Austin Can Academy, hopes to get into cosmetology school to cut hair professionally.
Emily Kinsolving | Daily Texan Staff
Goetz von Totenburg and Zach Most fight in a medieval style tournament at Patterson Park tennis courts in East Austin. Von Totenburg and Most are members of the Society for Creative Anachronism which meets weekly. Opponents battle until the first hypothetically fatal blow ends the match.
Proudly carrying their catch of the day, three young boys follow their mother down the beach. Sayulitans use homemade fishing rods made from Coca-Cola bottles as an inexpensive and efficient way to catch fish right off the shoreline.