First nights in America

For four years, Italian-born Gabriele Stabile photographed refugees in airports across the nation on the nights they first arrived on American soil. They came from Somalia and Ethiopia, from Burundi and Bhutan, from Iraq, from Burma. They were fleeing war, rape, torture. Their destinations were mysterious places called Alabama, North Dakota, and Texas. But before they settled into their new homes, entered their first megamalls, or celebrated their first Fourth of Julys, they met Stabile and his camera.

Their faces — bewildered, vulnerable, joyous — passed before his lens, and then disappeared from him forever. Or so he thought. In 2010, he met Juliet Linderman, now a reporter at the New Orleans Times-Picayune, who suggested the two track down Stabile’s subjects and gather their stories. A project was born.

The result is Refugee Hotel, a photography and oral-history book released this week by Voice of Witness and published by McSweeney’s. The stories are raw and the images are complex. The authors avoid trying to portray an overall “refugee experience” shared by the approximately 64,000 displaced people who enter the U.S. and Canada each year. Instead, the book is a kaleidoscope of voices and imagery that celebrates the individuality of each new American.

Read the article and interview with Gabriele Stabile in full, with additional images, here at the Atlantic.

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First nights in America