Overview • Yearning to Breathe Free

Much of what makes the United States of America great is her tradition of welcoming immigrants, especially those fleeing troubled lands. In fact, the U.S. was founded by immigrants who sought a better existence. Most all American citizens are descendents of immigrants, and we make up a rich land of varied peoples thanks to America’s open arms.

It is this American tradition of welcoming people from other countries that is the focus of Yearning to Breathe Free, a documentary exhibition now in production. However, rather than an historical retelling of immigration in the U.S., the focus is on how current immigrants and refugees are being welcomed in today’s post 9/11 climate — in northern Indiana, the crossroads of America.

Yearning to Breathe Free is intended to be a compelling collection of images and stories that documents on-going immigration and its impact on the cultural health of the United States and to her reputation in the world. It is also intended to improve the lives of immigrants in America by diminishing stigmas that can harm them.

This blog follows the pre-, pro-, and post-production of creating Yearning to Breathe Free. Here, you hear from the production’s creator, John Gevers, who is director of photography at NEW MEDIA BREW, Inc., a media arts company based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He shares with you not only the processes, joys, and  challenges of such an undertaking as it happens, but he also uses this forum to provide advance stories, images, audio, and video as they are collected.

Your comments, questions, and ideas are welcomed. Please be civil.

6 Responses to “Overview • Yearning to Breathe Free”

  1. Jack Heddon Says:

    Hi John!

    Thanks for the update about your latest project. It looks very interesting and I’m looking foward to seeing it all take shape.

    The topic reminded me of what the town of Lewiston, Maine was/is dealing with in regard to an influx of Somali refugees who moved there several years ago. I’ve referenced a few links below if you want to look into that any further. It was interesting to see how Mainers reacted to this and how the new Somali residents adjusted to life in very white New England.

    Jack

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/180035

    http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=130098&page=1

    http://uswofmaine.org/

    http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P2-7767130.html

    http://vdare.com/walker/lewiston.htm

    • yearningtobreathefree Says:

      Jack,

      Thank you for bringing the influx of Somalians to Lewiston, Maine, to my attention. And for providing all the helpful links. The parallels with what is occurring in Fort Wayne are many. We also have some refugees from Somalia and I hope to focus on them a bit, too, in Yearning to Breathe Free.

      I found the subject material in the vdare.com articles particularly helpful so that I can be as objective and informed through all of this as possible. Thank you for your great help. I’m pleased to have you in my audience.

      John

      • A chosen few Burmese, well documented. Where is the rest of the story? Where is the current reality here? Where are the interviews, pictures of the dirtier, seedy, neglected, huddled masses of the majority refugee/Burmese populations of Fort Wayne. Go to Autumn Woods, Brendonwoods, Griswold street apartments, Centlivre. Really search, really observe, really document the current refugees actual struggle to “just breathe” in Fort Wayne. The majority of Fort Wayne citizens are not taken by these puff pieces anymore, they demand reform, not art form for refugees, and from city leaders.

      • yearningtobreathefree Says:

        Native,

        I hope Daung Nwe Aye and Mi Nar don’t take your words calling their stories “puff pieces” to heart. In case you didn’t realize it, their stories were told in their very words. I edited nothing.

        Mi Nar lives with her daughters in one of the very apartment complexes you refer to, and I’ve spent much time in those new homes for the refugees. And the Sunday School graduation ceremony took place on the grounds of one of the apartment complexes. Interestingly, I worked in the very same low income apartments as a caseworker in the late 1980s when they were home to a different population. I have been surprised by the improved conditions of the same apartments now that they’re home to refugees largely from Burma. We as a society have much to learn from our newest neighbors from far off lands, including living in what many Americans consider to be less than desirable housing conditions. We are a spoiled, pampered population by and large.

        Circumstances and conditions are rarely just right like we all would like them to be, especially if we’re prone to want the best for all humankind, according to our own culture’s values. However, I for one hope to tell stories that not only show the negative of what is happening but also the more positive. I believe that we improve conditions partly by showing, talking about, and inspiring from the positive. And using art forms to convey such has been used for centuries.

        From Yearning to Breathe Free’s FAQ page I quote, “This is a labor of love for me. My attention and time must first go to my clients whose projects enable me to pay the bills. I post content on this blog as I get the time to work on Yearning to Breathe Free. If you’re a sugar daddy, or you know of one, please introduce us. I would love to pursue Yearning full-time.”

        I have captured many stories that have gone untold in this format to date due to the lack of long enough days to produce them. The next one is coming soon, I hope. I can do only what I can do since life is full of other demands. This is also only the blog of a larger documentary exhibition I am creating over a 2-4 year period. You won’t see it all here.

        Finally, I am impressed that you can speak for “the majority of Fort Wayne citizens.” Art form IS one way to reform, and I’m one in a long line who attempt to offer this to society. When you use the word “demand,” I think you might want to consider how it sounds and what it means to your fellow human beings who are offering what they can to help others in their considerable life struggles and to help them assimilate into a new culture.

  2. Fort Wayne Citizen Says:

    Well, I for one live here in Fort Wayne and I happen to stay right around the corner from autumn woods. I am very curious as to how much the Burmese have been taught about the ways most Americans live.

    Like the rights of privacy, on multiple occasions vegetables from private family gardens have been stolen (people I know personally), bicycles mysteriously gone missing, yards have been entered AT NIGHT!(family member) I understand that you are trying to put light on the subject of their survival here.

    But showing only the good side of this situation is ironically american of you. You cant turn a blind eye to how the citizens of Fort Wayne feel. What “Native” says in his post is mostly true.

    The Burmese people dumped on the south side of town which has always been neglected,( I know living here for my entire life.) Do live very gritty lives. It’s just a shame that you didn’t take the chance to show that side of the argument.

    You said, “I worked in the very same low income apartments as a caseworker in the late 1980s when they were home to a different population. I have been surprised by the improved conditions of the same apartments now that they’re home to refugees largely from Burma.” This is a lie. Through all the years that black people (mostly my family) that have lived there. Have never tore up the land (look at the grass and playground it was terrible), rummaged through garbage, let their young children (babies!) wonder about the street in mid-day traffic. they didn’t throw their trash and then wash their clothes in the creek bringing in a foul smell to the neighborhood around the corner.

    With all of this truth it seems like you are one of those case workers who come into the complex drop clothes and a few fancy gadgets and toys off and leave them to destruction. For you to at least not acknowledge these situations speaks falsehood on your entire documentation.

    I’m all for bringing their influence into the melting pot so it can get “Americanized” and processed like everything else but if you have a chance just tell the truth there’s good apples and bad apples; and if you leave out the bad, how can you tell whats good?

    • yearningtobreathefree Says:

      Thanks for your comments, Fort Wayne Citizen. Although your saying that I “lie,” stings, I appreciate your thoughts expressed here. I guess we disagree about the condition of the complexes comparing them today to the way I recall them in the 80s.

      To repeat what appears elsewhere on this blog: this is not a funded documentary. At all. I’m doing it in my spare time and as introductions into the communities allow. That is to say, VERY SLOWLY. It is my intent to tell both sides of the story, but with only limited time and no money to tell this story, I can only contribute additions to it at a snail’s pace. Due to the overwhelming amount of more negatively-oriented stories already out there, I choose to first cover the positive side of the refugees now living in our city.

      When time — and possibly funding — permit, I will cover additional angles of the story.

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