Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




Just in Case | На всякий случай

This series of photo essays focuses on Russian-speaking Jewish immigrants and the possessions they’ve carried with them through their immigration journey and beyond. The project explores why we are so often attached to physical things. Do objects provide comfort to us through times of great change, stress, trauma? Are they little time capsules that not only remind us of the past, but also give us hope that someone in the future will remember us? Do we simply convince ourselves that they are indispensable because they will serve a utilitarian purpose or were difficult to procure? Once people start talking about physical objects, their personal immigration stories start to emerge. Personal possessions are the the common thread that binds all immigrants, regardless of origins or cultures. In searching for common themes, this exhibit endeavors to erase the idea of “the other” that assimilated immigrants and their descendants often use to justify discrimination against new waves of immigrants from different cultures. This concept of “pulling up the ladder behind us” results in a refusal to help fellow immigrants who are going through the same experience.

There will always be “others”. There will always be immigrants. There will always be a hesitance to embrace a different person from another culture. If we can minimize that by telling our stories to bridge the gaps in our understanding of foreign cultures and to build on an anthropological study of the immigrant experience, our community will be all the better for it.

This project is part of the COJECO BluePrint Fellowship supported by COJECO and Genesis Philanthropy Group.

About the Artist

Valerie Zimmer immigrated to the United States in 1992 from Kiev, Ukraine. Her family settled in Philadelphia and later moved to the suburbs during the Soviet immigrant suburban sprawl. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Design. She met her non-immigrant, non-Soviet, non-Jewish husband in college, and together they settled in Queens, NY. Valerie received her MBA from NYU and has worked in Manhattan ever since. She currently works in higher education in the area of international and public affairs. She is a photographer and a storyteller, and she uses her lens to bring people’s stories to life.