The plight of those affected by the refugee crisis has been conveyed to wider audiences with great empathy by many comics projects over the last decade, both online and in print. Those stories, though, have often been filtered through Western eyes; their struggles translated to the page by other writers from the refugees’ accounts of their lived experiences. Or, often, “based on” the merged accounts of a number of testimonies.
Our Stories Carried Us Here, published by Green Card Voices, moves us closer to the first-hand realities with the direct involvement of both immigrants and refugees in the creative process in each entry. Every account is presented in their own words and illustrated by an artist whose style particularly complements their retellings. It’s a remarkable and often eye-opening collection that acts as a sequential art antidote to the largely toxic (certainly in the UK) media coverage of the subject.
Separated into stories by geographical regions Our Stories Carried Us Here is a truly global affair. The book is punctuated with glossaries to give readers a further insight into the preceding strips. Its opener (above) follows writer Zaynab Abdi’s flight from Yemen in 2011 with her younger sister as the unrest surrounding the Yemeni Revolution began. As a first-person account it has an immediate impact, with the challenges Abdi faced along the way (contracting tuberculosis, being separated from her sister in Egypt, and feeling isolated when she eventually made her way to the US) ensuring the readers’ investment in events. Ashraf Al-Attar’s loose realism on the visuals gives it an extra connective veracity.
For those who play down the desperation of people forced to flee their homes and countries due to persecution and injustice, Aziz Kamal’s reminder of the situation for Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (above) should surely shake their ill-held convictions. The careful colour choices of artist sunshine gao here adding to the intensity of key scenes. Alex Tsipenyuk’s short on life as a Kazakhstani immigrant allows artist Tom Kaczynski to use intuitive visual metaphor to explain the US Green Card lottery, while Vy Luong’s tale of leaving Vietnam as child to start a new life in the US (below) becomes all the more relatable for Cori Nakamura Lin’s stripped back, representational visuals. And Amara Solomon Kamara’s relocation to the United States from Guinea and the subsequent obstacles he faced in being reunited with his family is given colourful life by the vibrant artwork of Hamid Ibrahim and the Kugali team.
Questions of identity, chasing the “American Dream”, dealing with casual racism and the like abound across all ten stories, as do reminders of the invaluable contributions immigrants make to the societies they integrate into. Relevant and informative, Our Stories Carried Us Here is a vital read in bringing the truth of the lived experiences of both immigrants and refugees to the comics page. It’s a series of deeply affecting testimonies that needs a space on every library’s shelves.
Zaynab Abti, Aziz Kamal, Craig Moodie, Karelin, Alex Tsipenyuk, Ruth Mekoulom, Zurya Anjum, Sergio Cenoch, Mary Anne Quiroz, Vy Luong, Amara Solomon Kamara (W) Ashraf El-Attar, sunshine gao, Anna Hino Josi, Mike Centeno, Hop, Tom Kaczynski, Toufic El Rassi, Camilo Aguirre, Cori Nakumura Lin, Hamid Ibrahim and the Kugali Team (A) • Green Card Voices, £17.99
Review by Andy Oliver