June 12th, 2008
I’m pretty used to rejection these days; not in the dating sense, necessarily, though I’m well steeled for that kind of rejection too. It’s my collection of rejection letters I’m talking about. Internships in college, contests, grants, and the all too common editor-who-never-responds-to-proposal-X. This business requires the hide of a rhinoceros. Thick.
A friend and mentor, Wes Pope, told me he once papered his wall with rejection letters. Even though I’ve only got a file, I liked the idea. The collection showed me that at least I was trying.
So when I pulled the mail out the other day, saw the address, and felt the weight of the envelope, I though I knew what was inside. A one-page form rejection letter.
Instead, much to my thrill, it read:
“It is our great pleasure to inform you that your 2008 Individual Projects application to 4Culture has been recommended for an award in the amount of $7500 in support of your project: Cambodia: From Victim to Survivor.”
There were 220 applicants asking for a total of $1,153,924; of those, 75 applicants were selected for support and provided with funds totaling nearly $300,000. I was one of them.
I received the maximum amount to cover the expenses of returning to Cambodia and printing an exhibition showing why people might migrate and the risks associated (human trafficking) in an effort to celebrate the many immigrants who’ve made it to King County to try their hand at the American dream.
It was a complete chance I applied; I was picking up my exhibition from Cheryl dos Remedios in the City of Kent offices when she mentioned a workshop starting in an hour for a grant due in a few days. Speaking with Heather Dwyer, the King County 4Culture program coordinator, and dos Remedios forced me to shape a story from the mess in my head; I’d been home less than a month and my mind was still spinning.
Later, Heather commented “It is really your great work and commitment to the project that won the panel over,” but I don’t think I would have had a successful entry without their guidance.
So this fall I head back to Cambodia to finish this segment of an ongoing project. Now all I have to do is raise the rest of the proposed $23,000 budget–the part that pays me a living wage to do the reporting and multimedia work.
Excerpts from the grant application:
War, poverty and natural disaster limit the livelihood—and life–of many across the globe. These factors drive migration, some documented or “legal,” but most undocumented, from developing countries to the developed. King County is host to a large immigrant population that arrives here filled with the hope of finding religious or political freedom and economic success. However in our state, as many others, migrants are often left in the precarious position of relying on unregulated transnational migration.
Human trafficking, estimated as the third largest global criminal enterprise behind arms and narcotics, preys upon the vulnerable and disadvantaged seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Victims are lied to, cheated, beaten, raped; their documentation–if any–is often taken from them. Identity-less and “illegal” in the first place, victims are unwilling to approach law enforcement for fear of imprisonment or deportation. Slowly, governments worldwide are addressing this aspect of migration and realizing how economically and politically destabilizing it is, but also how profitable this human commodity is to criminal groups.
I am seeking funding to continue my documentary work raising awareness about the affects of and efforts to counter human trafficking. For this phase of the project I am focusing on Cambodia, a nation torn by genocide and 30 years of occupation and civil war. It is but one example of a vulnerable population forced into migration, either transnational or within its borders.
These are stories of survival; I am showing that today the same struggles leading to the founding of the United States still exist. In America, in a land of privilege and comfort where the prevailing idea is if you work hard enough you will succeed, I believe we tend to forget what it means to live without opportunity. It is difficult, when lulled into complacency, to understand why someone might knowingly take the risk of years of exploitation or death simply to find a job.
Through stories of human trafficking in Cambodia I will show a nation struggling–in trauma-speak–to become a survivor after decades of victimization. With these stories I hope to build awareness, empathy, action and an attitude of greater openness to and understanding of immigrant communities in King County….
Immigration is an important political issue in America. With its agricultural businesses Washington state is on the migrant labor circuit; this is a somewhat divisive issue between the more conservative eastern part of the state and the more liberal western counties. While Cambodians and Hispanics are culturally disparate, the same issues of economic gain and freedom are at the root of migration.
I believe my work illustrating precursors to migration will help King County citizens better understand the migrant laborers and the immigrants in their midst. I also feel that immigrant residents, particularly our relatively substantial Cambodian population, will have cause to reflect on their origins with a sense of pride and success.
Most importantly, I believe this project will add a strong voice to the growing awareness of the global nature of human trafficking. The United States is a destination country; our demand for sex and cheap labor make us a crucial part of the chain of exploitation and a powerful voice in ending it.
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