Skip to main content

New Exhibit Explores The Plight Of Refugees Through Personal Items

An undated photograph by Jim Lommasson of musical instruments on display as p...

Credit: Courtesy Photo

Above: An undated photograph by Jim Lommasson of musical instruments on display as part of the "What We Carried" exhibit at the New Americans Museum of San Diego.

New Exhibit Explores The Plight Of Refugees Through Personal Items


Linda Caballero Sotelo, executive director, New Americans Museum

James Elia, second-generation Chaldean American


If you had to leave your home forever, with almost no notice, what would you take with you?

Many families fleeing war-torn countries have been forced to make those kinds of decisions.

A new exhibit in San Diego shines a spotlight on the touching, odd and overall very personal items scooped up and now treasured by the families of immigrants and refugees from Iraq and Syria.

“What We Carried: Fragments and Memories from Iraq and Syria” is on display at the New Americans Museum San Diego in Liberty Station through September 3.

The exhibit features a series of photographs on loan from the Arab American National Museum that show a wide range of items people have carried with them, from musical instruments to reading glasses and a teddy bear. Each image is accompanied by a personal note written by the owner of the object.

Also on display are family heirlooms and personal items that belong to Chaldean-American families who live in El Cajon.

Linda Caballero Sotelo, executive director of the New Americans Museum, said the exhibit is meant to foster understanding at a time when negative messages attempt to dismiss the contributions of immigrants.

"I think the storytelling component is a key part of it. The universal themes that all of us can relate to around displacement, around family values, around objects that become more meaningful when we either have to leave them behind or we bring them with us to a new setting and a new home. Some of the local objects include beautiful tea cups that are reminiscent of a time when things were normal, so to speak, before they had to pick up and move elsewhere. There are things like a doll that someone kept and brought with them," Caballero Sotelo said.

Caballero Sotelo and James Elia, a second generation Chaldean American from El Cajon who helped organize the exhibit, shared some of the stories behind the objects, Tuesday on Midday Edition.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.