Refugee Hotel

From 2007 to 2011, Gabriele Steele, an Italian-born photographer, traveled to first ports of entry in the United States--New York, Newark, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles--to take pictures of refugees from Burma, Bhutan, Iraq, Sudan, Burundi and Somalia. Their stories reflected a common core of suffering: tribal warfare, gender, ethnic, religious and racial discrimination. The bleakness of their new surroundings contrasts strikingly with the cinematic retellings of their survival. (Refugee Hotel opens to a poignant sign ("Please Pardon Our Dust") from an unnamed hotel.) Barely visible amid the darkened hallways, deserted parking lots and alienating cityscapes, the refugees' solemn faces evoke a passage from Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby: "He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about...."

The refugees' final destinations are cities long forsaken by any striving Gatsby: Amarillo, Tex.; Mobile, Ala.; Erie, Pa.; Fargo, N.D. Yet for these new Americans, such places represent the rebirth of their humanity. " 'Home' means... looking forward to tomorrow and feeling safe about today," says Farah Ibrahim, a refugee from Iraq. "It means having the rhythm of my life restored." --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine

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