If you drive south down Interstate 10 towards San Antonio, Texas, you pass a few things. You pass my hometown – Boerne, Texas. You pass Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Camp Bullis Military Base, and Leon Springs, Texas, the home of George Straight and the San Antonio Spurs. A few miles south is Exit 561. This exit leads you to one of the largest medical centers in Texas, but also to one of the most dense and diverse refugee communities in Texas. Since 2004, nearly 5,200 refugees from 28 nations have been resettled in the Alamo City, according to Department of State data, including more than 1,200 from Burma, nearly 1,100 from Iraq and 1,200 from 13 African nations. Local experts have estimated the current refugee community number at about 10,000 to 12,000, and growing (San Antonio Current).
The refugee community spreads throughout multiple apartment complexes in the area. You know you are approaching the area when you start to see middle eastern and indian grocery stories on each corner and children bicycling around holding their infant siblings and soccer balls.
Families in this community are struggling through the 180 day period the U.S. allows them to become “self sufficient.” Both parents are working, children are fighting for school access and learning english culture, and the youngest of the families are left to the care of whoever happens to be home during the day. The climate of the area is chaotic, eerie, crowded, diverse, and tense.
Within the chaos of this community, I met the Acharya family - A mother, father, and their five children who moved to San Antonio from Nepal in 2009. As my relationship with them developed, I understood the humanity, strength, and individuality of refugees on a new level. Photographing them has shown me the challenges surrounding adapting to new surroundings as a refugee. How does one maintain and reconstruct their identity at the same time? How does one embrace their surroundings, yet remain proud of their native culture?
In photographing the Acharya’s, my goal is to provide an intimate perspective into the lives of refugees, to highlight each individual and communicate their experience adjusting to a new place. Through intimacy and storytelling, Everything is Different humanizes the refugee situation in San Antonio while touching on aspects of place, religion, and self-sufficiency.
Story can also be found on Exposure: https://erynshaffer.exposure.co/acharya