In Conversation with the Photo-Diasporas Project
Last month, Humanity United participated in a panel discussion that brought together individuals who shared their distinctive perspectives, experiences, and lessons learned in connection with the conflicts and resulting truth commission inquiries in Colombia and Kenya. This event was in partnership with the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs and its Kroc Institute for Peace.
Following the event, participants were invited to view a special photo exhibition featuring work from Photo-Diasporas, a project designed to broaden understanding of forced cross-border migration due to the Colombian armed conflict. The exhibition presents the views and voices of 15 men and women who were forced to leave the country and start a new life in the United States. This was the project’s first exhibit for an audience in Washington, D.C., and was followed by a commitment by the Colombian Embassy and Consulate to host the exhibit through April 29, 2023 as a month-long tribute to and recognition of victims of the armed conflict.
We had the opportunity to speak with two of the Photo-Diasporas participants about what the experience was like for them, the significance of bringing their stories and experiences to life through this exhibit, and what they want people to know.
HU: Can you please introduce yourselves to our audience?
Ecramet: My name is Ecramet. I have been in the U.S. since 2015.
Karina: My name is Karina. I come from the eastern part of Colombia and I have been in the United States for 5 years. I now live in Tampa, FL.
HU: What led to your participation in the Photo-Diasporas project?
Karina: I came to the Photo-Diasporas project from a call from Luz María [Sánchez]. That call was the first engagement that I had with my country, with the Victims Unit, and with this process. When I received the call, I was very surprised, but in that moment, instead of being reactionary, I just wanted to accept what this was and engage. It has been a wonderful experience. First, because there was recognition and also because we were able to connect with other Colombians in the process and learn about their experiences. The part of working together on the photography was really enriching and it was also very healing. For me, it was about letting go and letting it be seen from a different perspective.
Ecramet: I came to this project through Luz María. There was a project they were working on with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the Unit for Victims of Colombia where they wanted to learn about the recuperation process of those living in exile in the United States and what their experience in the U.S. was like. This project came after the research.
HU: Did everyone who participated in the research project also participate in Photo-Diasporas?
Ecramet: No, not everybody. They decided to invite us but there were people who said they didn’t have the time, they had to focus on their lives. It’s difficult since you are waiting for something that is more tangible. You’re going through a crisis and you’re not expecting someone to tell you “ok let’s go through art and just try to heal,” that isn’t easy. In the end, for the people who stayed, I think they were just searching for another alternative to heal themselves.
HU: How does it feel to be participating in the panel discussion this week and sharing your experience? What is the significance of this for you?
Ecramet: For me, and I think it’s the same for the rest of the group, it is very meaningful since we are going to be sharing with people who are very important in the field. It’s such an honor to be able to share this story. Not too many have that opportunity and I know that many people are looking for that right now, just to be listened to.
Karina: For me, the event is very significant, but I am nervous because where I come from, my part of the country, and also what I experienced with my sister, no one has ever supported us or reached out to us. Being a part of the Photo-Diasporas group and part of this event is a continuing of healing, letting go, and moving forward and reaching people who might be going through the same thing and letting them know that they too can forgive, heal, and keep going forward.
HU: What does it mean for you to be able to bring this exhibit of your collective and individual stories to D.C. and to the Colombian Embassy?
Karina: In the collective group of Photo-Diasporas, I was able to see the sensitivities and the grief of the group when we were working together. Collectively I saw that the state had abandoned them in Colombia and then being in the United States there was a sense of isolation and abandonment. For this group to be able to bring the exhibit to Washington, D.C. and to the embassy we’re able to show that we have a voice, we’re here and it’s an achievement to be heard and to bring that to light.
Ecramet: It’s very important to bring the exhibition to life again because it has a message. Everyone has a different perspective of their situations and bringing that to a different audience is going to be an enlightenment for them. You don’t have the opportunity to share these stories very frequently and the opportunity to bring this back and share the specific feelings and situations that people went through is very unique. I know that many people are waiting for money. But for us it was about getting our voices heard by the community and seeing what we can get from them too. I don’t think we are expecting money anymore, but we want people to know what we are going through in our lives here in the States, not just in Colombia, but living here in exile.
HU: You’ve expressed yourselves through this project, but is there anything else that you want people to know now that you’ve had the experience of sharing your stories?
Ecramet: I think we share the same feeling, that we did this but we really want more. More engagement from the government. More engagement from Colombians in the States. Sometimes there is a feeling that you are privileged and the others in Colombia are not, but the reality is that when you arrive in the States, it’s not a dream where everything is done and you’re safe and you have a better life right away. You have to go through many things before you get there. What we really want with this exhibition is to engage more with the Colombian community and the government.
Karina: There’s a lot for the Colombian government to do for the population of those living in exile. We want the government to open the space for us. It was hard in the country and now being outside we want to continue to give our voice and ask for the space and have that support that hasn’t been given to us there or here.
HU: Thank you both so much for your time and for sharing with us.