Images of Yemeni Immigrants

Amid a morning mist, immigrants from the Yemen Arab Republic arrive for work at a San Joaquin Valley vineyard. Others pray in a makeshift mosque or do chores in work camps in California’s agricultural fields. In Detroit, a Yemeni auto worker wears a traditional beaded cap with his utilitarian work clothes.

Images such as these are rarely seen in the West, where media coverage of the Arab World is overwhelmed by scenes of violence in the Middle East.

However, a photographic exhibition at UCLA’s Museum of Cultural History illuminates the life faced daily by immigrants from the Yemen Arab Republic. “Sojourners and Settlers: The Yemeni Immigrant Experience,” through June 14, documents the plight of Yemeni who emigrate to the United States. Some 110 black-and-white photographs depict the Yemeni laborers in this country and in their homeland, a small nation on the southwestern tip of the Arabian peninsula.


“About 35 million Third World people work outside their countries--Turks in Germany, Algerians and Moroccans in France, or Egyptians in Iraq,” says Jonathan Friedlander, who organized the exhibit. “But proportionally, the most extreme case is Yemen, which exports about a fourth of its adult males to Saudi Arabia and the West, and one-third of its gross national product consists of remittances sent by immigrant workers.”

The traveling UCLA exhibit shows “the whole life cycle of the immigrant workers, who come to the U.S. for five or more years without their families,” Friedlander says.

“It brings into focus how Yemeni immigrants, some of whom are landowners at home, confront an agricultural system where they are no longer masters of their lands but subservient to them,” he says, or how the men relate to their women when they return home, having been exposed to “all the American vices.”

Three American photographers, including Ron Kelley of Los Angeles, found Yemeni immigrants in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Detroit auto factories and Buffalo, N.Y., steel mills. Photographs of urban and rural Yemen were taken by an anthropologist and a historian, and Yemeni living in their own nation supplied snapshots of their day-to-day existence.

ARTISTS’ PICNIC: Four local art associations will sponsor an artists’ picnic next Sunday at 3 p.m. at Will Rogers State Park, 14253 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. Independent artists are invited to discuss art, meet other artists and bring a potluck lunch. A half-hour hike is planned. According to the press release, picnic-goers are asked to “wear something outrageous.” The event is sponsored by Los Angeles Artists Equity Assn., the Southern California Women’s Caucus for Art., S.I.T.E. and Los Angeles Printmaking Society. Information: (213) 655-1900.