Airport hotels are this era's Ellis Island, providing respite to refugees who have traveled thousands of miles and often survived horrific circumstances. New immigrants are greeted not by the Statue of Liberty but by the glow of fast-food restaurants and strip malls.
Gabriele Stabile, himself a transplant from Rome, spent four years traveling to New York, Newark, Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles, all international ports of entry, to photograph and talk with refugee families temporarily staying in nearby hotels. The result is "Refugee Hotel" by Stabile and Juliet Linderman. It collects Stabile's photos and offers narratives from refugees depicted, both soon after arrival and in 2010 after the authors tracked them down in their new homes scattered throughout the country.
"The refugee hotel marks the end of one journey, and the beginning of another," the two write in the book's introduction of the 64,000 people granted entry into the United States and Canada each year.
"Refugee Hotel" is divided into three sections: dark, almost grainy color photos of newly arrived immigrants — exhausted, bored, frazzled — in hotels; transcripts from interviews in which refugees describe the circumstances they fled in Sudan, Ethiopia, Iraq and elsewhere, and the sense of displacement they've felt since; and a collection of mostly black-and-white images depicting the lives the refugees have built in their adopted home. It is a series of snapshots that offers a telling glimpse into isolated communities — a glimpse both heartfelt and smart in its restraint.
The fragmented stories combine to present a compelling portrait of not just these individuals; by exploring the subjects' often complex perceptions of the United States and the conflicts presented by becoming American, the book reflects a nuanced image of the country itself.
Jennifer Day is editor of Printers Row Journal.
By Gabriele Stabile and Juliet Linderman, McSweeney's, 319 pages, $25