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San Diego State University

Experience Imagination

Imagine All The People: Refugee Experiences in San Diego

Benedict Anderson’s concept of ‘imagined communities’ suggests that our sense of national identity is a social construct -- something perceived but not real. We could only ever know a small portion of the people in a national community, yet we might feel allegiance and solidarity with these strangers. The limited and exclusive membership of an imagined community automatically implies that members contrast themselves against members of other national communities. The consequences of this ‘othering’ can be devastating and often leads to violent national conflict -- all in the name of an abstract identity. This is how refugees are made.


Over the past few decades, civil unrest, ethnic cleansing, war, famine, and environmental crises have contributed to an ever-growing global refugee crisis. Millions of individuals have fled their home countries; many are still homeless while countless families remain separated. The sometimes hostile backlash directed at refugees both from countries near conflict zones and from refugee host countries further compounds feelings of loss, desperation, isolation, and displacement.


San Diego has the largest refugee population in the United States. Already a diverse city, our refugees enhance and contribute to San Diego’s cultural fabric, representing various cultures, ethnicities, religions, and languages from Vietnam, Laos, Somalia, Burma/Myanmar, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Palestine, just to name a few. And while San Diego receives these new Americans, the question of where home really is remains.


Imagine All The People will attempt to explore the experiences of refugees who have resettled in San Diego - from the often violent and destructive events that led to their flight, to their arrival in the United States. For many refugees, the notion of home is liminal and ambiguous, tied to a nation that may no longer exist, or connected to a place they’ve never been or can’t remember. But this sense of home, however fleeting and unstable, is also tied to an identity that transcends place. We want students to imagine what the experiences and consequences of displacement are, and how migration impacts individual and national identity. But we also invite students to contemplate what the world would be like without national identity, as John Lennon’s “Imagine” so eloquently asks of us.


Life on Hold: Living Within Limits


October 17th, 2017
Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union Theatre


This first panel will focus on the experiences of young refugees growing up inside and outside of their home country or territory, especially in refugee camps, before coming to the United States. Refugees from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East will be represented. Video clips will accompany presentations.


Life Let Loose: Finding New Options

October 23rd, 2017
Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union Theatre


The second panel will focus on the experiences of refugees after their arrival in the United States. Panelists will include representatives from the International Rescue Committee, a refugee resettlement agency, and the Karen Organization of San Diego, which provides support for refugees from Burma (Myanmar). Refugees will speak about how they and other refugees are making new lives for themselves here, and the challenges they face. Video clips will accompany presentations.

Event Details:

Topic: Imagine All the People: Refugee Experiences in San Diego



Panel: Life on Hold: Living Within Limits

Panel: Life Let Loose: Finding New Options

Exhibit: Imagine all the People


Date:Fall and Spring 

Faculty Sponsors:

Bruce Harley,

Librarian and Honors Faculty


Dr. Pamella Lach,

Digital Humanities Librarian


Amanda Lanthorne,

University Archivist 


Partnerships & Affiliations:

Library and Information Access
Weber Honors College
Digital Humanities Initiative
Office of Diversity
International Rescue Committee
Karen Organization of San Diego


Imagine All The People


Date & Venue: TBD

This exhibit will include artwork by and about refugees.