In a photograph fading with age, Priya Patel proudly poses in a cap and gown for her preschool graduation picture. Flanked by her beaming aunt and mother, she holds up her paper diploma with a slight smile.
It’s an adorable, normal moment for most families but the caption might catch you off guard. “A little #ScaryImmigrant plots to steal jobs,” it reads.
Patel’s image is the latest contribution to the new satirical website Scary Immigrants, which documents the “boringly normal” lives of immigrants. But there’s a twist each photo has a caption that plays off anti-immigrant rhetoric, which often paints immigrants as dangerous or manipulative.
On the site, an immigrant mowing the lawn becomes a #ScaryImmigrant handling dangerous machinery. And an immigrant child posing for a photo becomes a #ScaryImmigrant plotting to land an American husband for citizenship.
Once you click each photograph, however, you’ll find the real, unremarkable descriptions of what each image shows and how negative views of immigrants have impacted the lives of those featured.
“We are always portrayed in these conniving or scary stereotypes in the media,” said Aanjalie Collure, Scary Immigrants‘ creator and curator. “But we lead boring and unexciting lives much like everyone else.”
“We lead boring and unexciting lives much like everyone else.”
Collure launched the project as part of Autobiography Magazine, an online multimedia platform she founded to tell the stories of underrepresented communities.
Though immigrant communities are always navigating harsh discrimination and rampant misconceptions, Scary Immigrants comes at a time when immigrant rights are particularly under threat in the U.S.
Collure, who is a Sri Lankan-Canadian immigrant now living and working in New York, was inspired to create the site after President Donald Trump signed an executive order establishing an immigration ban last week. She was flying back home to New York after visiting her parents in Toronto when the order was announced, banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations and asylum for Syrian refugees.
“For a lot of people mainly immigrants following that moment, we felt really scared and concerned and unsure of what the future held,” she said. “But I think it also really propelled us to action.”
“If you can use comedy as a tool to point out how ridiculous something is, I really do think that can impact change.”
As Collure followed the breaking news of the ban from the airport, she saw the alarmed reactions of her own community juxtaposed with the administration’s narrative of immigrants as “threats.” It inspired her to start conceptualizing Scary Immigrants as she waited for her delayed flight.
Though the site’s first posts feature photos from Collure’s friends and family, she’s since received submissions from people she doesn’t know, who hope to share their stories with humor.
“I just created the domain and the idea, but people are really coming forward and sharing their stories,” she said. “I want to encourage more people to do that. I want this to be a platform that everyone feels is theirs, and that they can contribute and shape.”
To submit a photo to the collection, immigrants can email firstname.lastname@example.org or use the hashtag #ScaryImmigrants on social media, with their photos and descriptions. Collure will then write a satirical caption, which she asks each participant to approve before posting.
While she hopes the site challenges negative assumptions of immigrant communities, Collure said the most important result of the project is giving immigrants an outlet to share their stories.
“Comedy is such a powerful advocacy tool,” she said. “I don’t think people see that enough. If you can use comedy as a tool to point out how ridiculous something is, I really do think that can impact change and I hope it does.”