Karim, a fabric store owner in Jackson Heights originally from Afghanistan. Photo: Maya Ethridge.
During the Soviet-Afghan War in 1985, Karim emigrated from Afghanistan to live with relatives here in Queens. A year later, he opened a fabric shop in Jackson Heights, still operating from the same location 33 years later. When asked whether he feels a greater connection to his homeland or America, Karim said, “Now, I am American. 35 years I’m here. More my life go in America than in Afghanistan."
Karim is one of 11 subjects featured in CIANA's newest Instagram campaign, titled #IAmAmerican. Launched on December 11, the campaign features CIANA clients, local business owners, and Queens residents reflecting on their experience leaving their home country and building a new life in the United States,
The idea came from Maria Eliades, CIANA’s then-Director of Communications and Development, over the summer in response to “send her back” chants directed at a group of progressive Congresswomen of color.
"There’s been a greater move to be more inclusive and have more people add their voices to what’s going on, and also to depict more than one type of person, which has usually been white." Eliades adds, "as long as you uphold American values and you contribute to the community, you are American."
The photos were taken by students in a course called Immigrant NY, offered at the New School, which studies the struggles faced by New York City’s large immigrant community. Students are required to work with a community-based organization that assists immigrant populations.
Yailenne Escobar, one of the six students from the course assisting with the campaign, was motivated to participate in part by her family's experience immigrating to Chicago from Colombia, and a desire to amplify the voices of those who have experienced similar struggles.
"As a first-generation student, I know first hand how it is to be in a vulnerable position. My involvement [with the campaign] did nothing else but highlight voices that already exist and spread the value of their stories with everyone."
The ultimate goal of sharing photos and stories of new Americans will is to demonstrate that wherever in the world a person was born, they are still capable of embodying American values in a multitude of forms.
As Eliades believes, ""I think you start with the platform that you have, and, in this case, you show what it is to be American through all these different beautiful things."
Photos will continue to be posted two to three times a week on Instagram through early January.