In The Picture: The Refugees Who Now Call America ‘Home’

Photographer Angie Smith opens a window into the lives of some of the thousands of refugees from around the world who now call themselves “Idahoans” with intimate portraits from her project “Stronger Shines The Light Inside.” Los-Angeles based Smith has spent two years in Idaho chronicling the lives of refugees. She shared some of her photos and their accompanying stories with 500 Pens.

Khamisa, with her children, is from Sudan.
Photo by Angie Smith

“Life on the camp is very hard. If you’re someone who doesn’t have hope and you don’t believe that there is God then definitely you can’t stay. During those days there was too much killing going on. The local people would come at night with guns, start shooting people, killing — at times they won’t take anything, they will just come, they kill you and they go.”

“My kids are the ones who keep me going. If I can see them laughing every day, I don’t think of anything else, I just feel happy, I feel thankful. Both he and my daughter have passed through a hard life. I’ve seen a hard life through them.”

Paw Lah Tse and Paw Lah Htoo are from Burma.

Photo by Angie Smith

“We were born in Burma. We left when were thirteen because of persecution. The Burmese military burned down our houses. We were hiding in the jungle.”

“We were in a refugee camp in Thailand for thirteen years with our father and our brother. Our mother passed away when we were six years old. She was sick, we could not prevent it from getting worse.”

“Life in the camp was hard because you cannot go outside of the camp. And the food they were giving to us was decreasing. We were hungry sometimes. There is no way of making money and buy food, so it was hard.”

“When we found out we were coming here we were happy, and at the same time we were worried because we didn’t know the language and the environment and the culture.”

Ali is from Iraq and Hesham is from Syria.


Ali: “I am from Iraq. When I have fighting in my country, I go to Syria for eight years, and in Syria, they have fighting too, like in Iraq. And I go to Turkey, I stay like year and a half then I come to the U.S.”

“I remember a lot. I saw a lot, killing people, people run away, people die. Yes, friends, my friends. Lots. I saw them die and I run away because they want to kill me too. I was in the street, I was walking and they shoot us and they run. Another person died. I was fourteen years old. That happened many times, but I was with my family. When we had to change the place, it was very bad. When we moved they tried to kill us.”

“Sometimes it makes me angry. Sometimes I stay quiet. I didn’t talk about it with my family because I don’t want them to feel bad. I want to make everyone feel happy. I want to forget, I am trying. I want to make friends, good friends. Like friends I lost in Syria.”

Hesham: “I have hard memories. The war start and they start demolishing my home in my country. And they took my dad. They took him to jail for two days but he didn’t do anything. He went to the work, everyone in my city they told him ‘don’t go today,’ but he went to the work and when he got there, they took him.”

“We learn a lot from American, like when they feel sadness, they do a sport, they go to the parks. They do anything to forget the sadness and we do the same thing with them. Every time when we see American, we see a smile on their face—that makes us relax. When you see American here, he say ‘Welcome,’ he say ‘Have a good day for you.’ This word make you relax.”

Muga is from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Photo by Angie Smith

“I left the Congo when I was five years old and we moved to Rwanda. That’s where we lived for seven years before we came here. You don’t just expect to wake up in the morning and still be alive. Some people will be sleeping and you wake up the next morning and they are gone. Or they might be sleeping and in the middle of the night, fires all over their house. It was not a safe place at all. Hunger was all over, people killing each other.”

“When I got here, everything was really different from what I experienced in Africa… The language was the most difficult. We had to go to doctors appointments and we didn’t have transportation. I mean, we had to be there but when you don’t have transportation— I mean, there was a bus but if we don’t know how to use it, we can’t get there. We started getting used to providing for ourselves and not relying on the neighbors. We thanked them and realized we can’t depend on them so we provided for ourselves and got used to things we didn’t know.”

 Abdullah is from Iraq.

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Photo by Angie Smith

“I don’t remember not feeling scared. First time I felt real fear was in Baghdad when we were moving with my family, we were walking to the bus to move to another city. I turned around and looked back at our city. The whole place was dark and the end of the sky you could see the sky turn red and yellow because of fire and explosions.”

“The year before I moved here there was no money, no safety. In the last year my dad always pretended that he wasn’t hungry but it was because he didn’t want to finish the food. We couldn’t afford water. Here when somebody gets bullied, they’re bullied about their religion, they’re bullied about their color — back there would they bully me about how we lost the war, how we are poor.”

“I feel like I still have to settle down, be more part of the community, and it’s just a matter of time. I’m probably going to college and after that I’m probably going to do journalism or be a doctor, then people will understand it doesn’t matter where this person is from.”

kate-barsotti-pen-bw257About Angie Smith: After graduating from Bard College, photographer Angie Smith moved to New York City and worked in the photo departments of several magazines. She is based in Los Angeles in between travel assignments and teaching workshops for National Geographic around the world.

Copyright © 500 Pens. 

Talking To The Grown-Up Children Of LGBT Parents

“My mom is gay. But it took me a long time to say those words out loud,” says photographer Gabriela Herman. Her mother came out when Gabriela was in high school, and it felt like something that “needed to be hidden.” Even within her otherwise tight-knit family, the topic was taboo. Herman says it was a long time before she met anyone else raised by a gay parent.

The isolation she felt as a young woman inspired her to create “The Kids” five years ago. Through her project, Herman has been photographing and interviewing children of the ’80s, ‘90s and ‘00s with one or more gay parents. Fifty of her portraits will be published as a book this September.

Much (but certainly not all) has changed in the United States for members of the LGBTQ community, including the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage, since Herman began her project. And it gives her hope.

“While my experience was difficult, I am hopeful that won’t be the case for the next generation,” says Herman, who shares some of her portraits with us below. “This inequality will fade, and my future children will wonder what the fuss was about.”


Zach was raised in Iowa.   Photo and interview courtesy of Gabriela Herman.

“I think the operative word in describing our family is not ‘LGBT,’ it’s in ‘family.’ If you look at the vast majority of things that define who my moms are, or who my family is, it’s really no more accurate to say that my moms are gay married than to say they are Packers-fan married or work-in-healthcare married.”


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Hope was raised in New York City.   Photo and interview courtesy of Gabriela Herman.

“I knew that there was other structures of families because I would see my friends’ families and my aunts and uncles, and I knew that people had something called a mother that I didn’t necessarily have. But I didn’t really think that I was so much in the minority. I wondered about my birth family, and my birth mother in particular; but in terms of my own development, I don’t feel like I suffered because of it. I think that my parents did a fantastic job of helping to raise me to be a strong woman. But in terms of that question piece about where did I come from – sometimes I still wonder that, and then other times it just kinda disappears in terms of its importance.”


Zack was raised in upstate New York.   Photograph and interview courtesy of Gabriela Herman.

“Everyone in my family is adopted. I had less trouble with two moms and more issues with finding myself, you know, with race and ethnicity.”


Darnell was raised in Menlo Park, California.   Photo and interview courtesy of Gabriela Herman.

“I took for granted the fact that I was surrounded by lesbians all the time and I thought that was very normal. I have a vague memory of listening to pop music on the radio and just assuming that the person singing was probably singing to a person of the same gender. ”


Danielle grew up in Washington, D.C.   Photo and interview courtesy of Gabriela Herman.

“When I was about 4, my friend and I were playing house, and she always got to play the mom; and this time I was not gonna have it. We got into a big heated fight about it. So my mom comes running inside to ask what’s the matter. ‘Why don’t you both play the mother?’ And I looked at her incredulously and said, ‘You can’t do that.’ And she looked at me and said, ‘Danielle, you have two mothers!’”



Gabriela Herman is a Brooklyn-based editorial and commercial photographer who specializes in travel, food, lifestyle and portrait work around the globe.

Copyright © 500 Pens. June 2017.

In The Picture: Holocaust Survivors, Remembrance And The Antidote For Hatred

Photos by Giovana Schluter
Text by Karen Schwartz

The human cruelty of the Holocaust is almost too much to comprehend. Couple that with the now frequent image of swastikas appearing on buildings and playgrounds, the more than 100 bomb threats that were called into Jewish community centers and the vandalism that occurred in Jewish cemeteries this past year, the question emerges: How do survivors bear it? One way is through hatred’s antidote: community.

Selfhelp Community Services, which operates the oldest and largest program serving Holocaust survivors in North America, fosters this fellowship by, among other things, arranging monthly lunches where groups of New York City survivors socialize. The camaraderie was clear at a recent Holocaust Remembrance Day lunch in Brooklyn, which featured a program of readings, conviviality and song.

Later, in a room to the side, attendees posed for portraits by photographer Giovana Schluter and answered the question: “What would you most want people today to know or understand from your experience?”

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“We lived in a little town, and my father was a rabbi. We were eight children. They came and took him, and they cut off his beard. We never saw him again. The next morning they took us to the ghetto, my mother and the eight children. And after four weeks, they took us to the stone factory. Then they had an order, people with a lot of children, they have to go first. They took us to cattle cars — no toilet, no food, nothing. We were traveling for a whole week, and we were going to Auschwitz. And somehow what happened — maybe they didn’t have room in the crematorium — they didn’t have place for this transport and then it went back to Austria. And that was our luck.” —Paula Weiss. Photo by Giovana Schluter
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“I keep repeating this: people should know that hatred and silence led to murder. ‘Never again’ will only be good if there is no silence. We can’t be silent.  Now our loved ones, our millions of loved ones, live only through us, and we must make sure they are never forgotten.” —Sonia Klein. Photo by Giovana Schluter
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“I was in the ghetto in Romania three years. From 1941 in June to the liberation August 23, 1944. I went home, the house was empty. We didn’t have [food] to eat and it was terrible. To survive the war, yes, was hard… but many people forget that after was still very difficult.”   —Adele Schreiber (translated to English).  Photo by Giovana Schluter
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“…But I don’t know how you could make the world to believe. It’s very, very difficult. Because even the people who lived there couldn’t believe you could just take people and throw them in the crematories and gas chambers.” —Iditha Avishai. Photo by Giovana Schluter
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“I want people to realize that we went through a lot in the Holocaust, and it was a lot of hatred.  I wish that there should be peace. People should get along with each other. And for future generations, they should know what happened.” —Ruth Sokol. Photo by Giovana Schluter


Giovana Schluter is a portrait and documentary photographer, based in the South Bronx, in New York City.

Karen Schwartz is a writer and a contributing editor to Marie Claire magazine.

Copyright © 500 Pens. May 2017.

Viral Photo Sparks Bond Between Jewish, Muslim Families

Photos by Suzanne Tennant
Text by Mimi Sager Yoskowitz 

“The photo was really beautiful and powerful because there was this amazing parallel between the two families,” said Yael Bendat-Appell.

She was talking about a photograph that depicted her husband, Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell, and their 9-year-old son along with Fatih Yildirim and his 7-year-old daughter. Both fathers talked while their children were perched atop their shoulders, smiling and holding signs that included, “Hate Has No Home Here.” Meryem, the little girl, wore a scarf; Adin sported a yarmulke.

The photo of the Jewish and Muslim families, taken during a protest of President Trump’s first travel ban inside O’Hare International Airport by Chicago Tribune photographer Nuccio DiNuzzo, went viral. Those parallels Yael discussed sowed the seeds of a friendship between the Bendat-Appells and Yildirims. Since February, they have gathered three times for meals at each other’s homes.

During one of these recent dinners, the children, ranging in ages from 18 months to 15 years old, played together while the adults spoke in the living room, finishing each other’s sentences and laughing easily with one another.  

“We’re people who are busy with families and work and life. [Yet] this is really important to us, and so we’re making it happen,” said Rabbi Bendat-Appell about the families finding time to bond and solidify their friendship. “But it’s not an extraordinary thing. Anybody can do it.”

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The Bendat-Appell family from left: Jordan, Orli, Adin, Yael and Shaiya. The Yildirim family from left center: Amy, Ihsan, Fatih, Meryem, Yasemin and Destiny.
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The fathers were discussing kosher steak houses when a Chicago Tribune photographer snapped a photo of them that went viral this winter. In an effort to expand upon their families’ growing friendship, the Bendat-Appells and Yildirims recently gathered with six other couples from their own communities to begin widening the interfaith circle.
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“Our values as human beings feel very similar, so it’s exciting to share that,” said Yael Bendat-Appell, serving dinner to the children.
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“The kids need to reach out. They need to get outside of [their] bubble,” said Amy Yildirim. “Kids have this purity, they’re not contaminated yet.”
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The kids gelled quickly. “We end up sitting together ourselves, and the kids are off doing their own thing,” said Yael Bendat-Appell.
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Fatih Yildirim said seeing the Bendat-Appells and other non-Muslims at the protest was “touching.” Here he plays with his 22-month-old son Ihsan and 18-month-old Shaiya.
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“I think that God brought us together for a reason. It’s a good match, and it’s going to keep continuing,” Fatih Yildirim said. “This is just the beginning.”


kate-barsotti-pen-bw257Suzanne Tennant is a freelance editorial, commercial and family photographer based in the Chicago area. She was a staff photographer with Sun-Times Media Company from 2006 to 2011. During that  time she won awards in the Illinois Press Photographers Association “Best of Photojournalism.” She has also been a freelance photographer in the Seattle area.

kate-barsotti-pen-bw257Mimi Sager Yoskowitz is a Chicago-area freelance writer, mother of four and former CNN producer. Her work has been featured in Chicago’s JUF News and on various sites including “Kveller,” “Brain, Child” and in the Contributor Network of “The Forward.” Her essay about motherhood was featured in the anthology “So Glad They Told Me.” Connect with her at

Copyright © 500 Pens. May 2017.