Millions of refugees attempt to cross borders on boats every year wearing the signature black and orange life vests, garments that are unlikely to ensure them a safe trip, let alone a better life.
The positive impacts some of these refugees make and have made tend to go largely unnoticed in their destination countries, but this has inspired a young Vietnamese-American artist.
Kien Quan, 26, a recent graduate from The Miami Ad School and a New-York based freelance photographer, together with his friend Jillian Young, has been sticking “Made by Refugee” labels on products that were the brainchilds of refugees all around New York City.
The pair discovered that if it wasn’t for refugees like Sriracha hot sauce inventor David Tran, musician Bob Marley, war heroine Anne Frank, physicist Albert Einstein and even the Dalai Lama himself, the world wouldn’t be the same.
“This should have been obvious, but it wasn’t”, Quan told VnExpress International via a Skype call.
Sriracha hot sauce, developed by Vietnamese refugee David Tran in 1980
In March, after listening to negative public attitude towards refugees and President Donald Trump’s executive order to ban citizens from eight Muslim countries, Quan went on a Facebook rant about how no one would be enjoying Sriracha hot sauce if it wasn't for David Tran, who came to the U.S. as a refugee after the Vietnam War.
What seemed like an overnight idea quickly expanded after Quan and Young discovered just how many refugees' contributions are ignored.
“It’s a long list and I believe there’re still a lot undiscovered.” Quan said.
From Sriracha sauce, Jamaican reggae legend Bob Marley’s music and World War II refugee Carl Djerassi’s birth control pills, to books by Sigmund Freud, Anne Frank, Albert Einstein and Dalai Lama, Quan believes each one deserves a small tag that simply says “Made by Refugee” -- just like “Made in China” or “Made in the USA”.
The design is simple: black and orange - the same as the life vests - and also the color of the Refugee Nation’s flag, which was first recognized at the Olympics last year.
The pair spent days sticking the rectangular tags and posters all over New York City, despite occasionally being challenged by angry shop owners who accused them of vandalism.
“Two out of every three people who see us putting up stickers approve of our ideas and the response has been largely positive, except for a few online threats from conservative blogs.” Quan said.
This guerilla art project has also been featured in over 100 publications all over the world, including the Huffington Post, Yahoo and NBC.
“I have had people coming up to me and say today they’ve learned something new.” Quan said. “It’s not as important to reach a thousand people as changing a few people’s perspectives.”
Quan and Young have tagged stickers around New York City, Germany, Denmark, Japan, and most recently, Ho Chi Minh City.
Despite the media blitz, Kien Quan and Jillian Young have no plans to stop the project yet. As a photographer who travels a lot, Quan wants to take his stickers everywhere he goes and spread the message.
“It’s simple. If I like refugees, I learn something new. If I don’t, there’re things that couldn’t have existed if the refugees never made it.”
Bob Marley - Musician - Jamaican refugee
Carl Djerassi - Inventor of birth control - Austrian refugee
Albert Einstein - Revolutionary physicist, Nobel Prize winner - German refugee
Anne Frank - Diarist - German refugee
Tenzin Gyatso - 14th Dalai Lama, Champion of peace - Chinese refugee
Virgin Mary & Jesus Christ - Mother and son of God - Refugees of Nazareth
"Made by Refugee" poster in Copenhagen, Denmark
"Made by Refugee" posters in New York City
Photos courtesy of Kien Quan