By Susan Mariano, CMNH Intern
Q. Your photographs capture the optimistic joy of childhood and the strong desire to embrace and rejoice in the freedom to express, celebrate and share one’s colorful cultural heritage. While the immigrants and refugees from Africa and Southeast Asia may outwardly look and dress differently than those born here in the United States, they share many of the same family values as their fellow American-born neighbors and should be respected and appreciated for their differences.
Many of the people you have immortalized on film have come to New Hampshire seeking safety and a better life for their children. However, it was a shameful local act of hate that inspired you to begin your photographic journey. What signs have you seen that the tides of understanding and embracing cultural diversity are changing here in New Hampshire?
A. The act of hate that inspired me to do this photographic project was immediately countered by a large community response that started the "Love Your Neighbor" Coalition. The hate was from one person, the response was from a whole community. Since then, my photography has been shown in many exhibits and talks that I have given in several New Hampshire communities. I have seen in the response to those events that feature the lives of our immigrant and refugee neighbors, and in the out-pouring of interest in by book, Different Roots, Common Dreams, that there is a growing interest and desire to welcome for people of different cultures who resettle in our communities. Through these photographs, the broader public has come to know our immigrant neighbors, and that knowing has planted the seeds of understanding and compassion.
Q. The photographs you have taken of Chinese children living their everyday lives, hanging out with friends, riding on a bicycle and playing outside in the dirt illustrate that the simple things that bring one joy during the days childhood are pretty much universal.
As a retired pediatrician who accompanies groups of prospective parents on the journey to meet their adoptive children for the first time, what would you like to say to couples who are considering becoming parents to children from other cultures?
A. My advice to people thinking of adopting children from a different culture would be no different than I would give to any potential parents. Raising children is a demanding challenge whether they are naturally yours, adopted from your culture, or adopted from a different one. If you are afraid of challenges, don’t have kids. If you embrace challenges, go for it!
SAYAKA and SETH BLEWITT
Q. The images and objects that you have curated, providing a glimpse into the life of a child from Japan, were uniquely enlightening. Finally, I understand the significance of the Japanese cherry blossoms! The celebrations of Hina Matsuri and Tango no Sekku show how truly important and respected children are in the lives of the Japanese.
What message are you hoping the people who view your collection will take away with them?
A. I'm glad that the exhibit had that effect of providing some insight into Japan through a child's eyes. Think of the first moment when you saw the topics posted on the wall of the
exhibit. Perhaps you had never seen a lunch box decorated to look like Mario...or you've not yet had the chance to sit underneath cherry blossoms and enjoy the company of others while the petals fall around you. If any of the topics were new to you, what did you feel when it was something you'd never seen before? This feeling is what I want people viewing the collection to take away with them. And this is the feeling that kids have all the time as they are growing up and encountering something for the first time.
Curiosity, wonder, bemusement, and excitement for something new are a little harder to come by when you're older, unless you look for it. In exploring another culture, adults can feel like a kid again because they encounter a barrage of new experiences. So hopefully in the short term visitors, adults and children alike, have found these wondrous emotions. And in the long term I hope that this exhibit has motivated adults to seek out new experiences for themselves and to share with others.