“America is Like Heaven” documents African refugees who have created community for themselves and have succeeded in preserving an African way of life in the Northwestern United States. A group of Congolese people who have been resettled to Missoula, Montana in recent years stand as a microcosm amongst countless people groups across the globe being constantly resettled to new cities. Yet Missoula, a small city nestled in the Rockies in the western most recesses of the state, and the city’s small, almost entirely white population starkly contrast the skylines and already-diverse populations of long-established refugee havens in the US like Chicago, Austin and Columbus.
Refugees fleeing any nation are guided to new homes by their pre-existing relationships they hold with people of their own ethnic groups acorss the globe. Yet, in the mid 2010s, no refugees from Africa lived in Missoula, Montana. In fact, no refugees had been resettled to the city since 2001, when the city closed its doors to refugees after receiving a tide of Hmong people from Vietnam. It was only in 2016 that Missoula’s refugee resettlement office reopened its doors - a result of the urging of a group of Missoulians passionate about social justice. Now, since 2016, Missoula’s International Rescue Committee office, contracted by the state government, has resettled over 170 Congolese people to Missoula, and that number continues to rise each year. Though these Congolese are indeed displaced, and often appear out of place amidst a western culture and landscape, they have very much assembled in order to preserve their African way of life, and they consider the Northwestern US a new, permanent home. In my observation, they have found for themselves a kind of quiet thriving in the land that welcomed them.
Selections from the series
“America is Like Heaven”
photographed in the NW U.S., 2019