Photo project challenges xenophobia by exposing ‘scary immigrants’

A girl, maybe six, wears a red graduation cap and stands with her mom, aunt and baby sister. The photo is grainy and tilted, like it was shot by someone too excited to bother checking if the camera was straight.

The caption under it reads, “A little #scaryimmigrant plots to steal jobs from Americans.”

Curator Aanjalie Roane’s project, Scary Immigrants, is all about juxtaposing mundane family photos — the kind stuck on fridges, framed on living room bookshelves or slotted into photo albums across Canada — and captioning them with common xenophobic tropes.

“The project is really seeking to confront those stereotypes in their face and show exactly how absurd they might be,” she said.

The idea was borne out of Roane’s experience being in the United States in 2016 and 2017, she told Ottawa Morning host Robyn Bresnahan.

“I had seen a lot of the harmful rhetoric that was surrounding immigration at the time,” she said.

Roane, whose family immigrated to Canada from Sri Lanka when she was three. said it came as a shock, for example, when the United States introduced a ban on immigration from Muslim nations.

“As an immigrant myself who had always identified as a Canadian, as an immigrant Canadian, I had never defined myself in the words that were coming out of that election … immigrants as potential threats to their host communities.”

Roane includes a photo from her own childhood in the gallery. She’s wearing a Sailor Moon costume complete with a crown made from a phone book.

The caption: “A little #scaryimmigrant wearing a disguise.”

The “scary” man drinking alcohol is Anthony Parel, who includes a heartfelt thank you to his parents who left everything to build a better life for their children. The immigrant “interfering” in Canada’s election is Tuba Chishti, exercising her right to vote as a Canadian.

Roane, who now performs humanitarian work outside Ottawa, grew up in Mississauga, Ont., where she said she experienced negative stereotypes.

For example, her family was warned by neighbours that their home’s previous owners had kept the lawn nice — the subtext hinting at a belief newcomers don’t know how to maintain grass.

“A pair of Canadian families with a bad lawn was just a coincidence, but a pair of immigrant families with a bad lawn was an epidemic,” Roane observed.

Her father proudly maintained an immaculate lawn and still does to this day, she said.

While the project aims to address stereotypes, Roane also hopes it builds unity among immigrants and emboldens them to speak up and demand better representation in media.

“It’s a movement to really build more empathetic solidarity with immigrants,” she said.

Roane officially launches her project Thursday. She hopes users will continue to upload photos, their stories and satirical captions to expose hollow beliefs one candid image at a time.

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