Photographer Jila Nikpay takes a look at the changing identity of immigrants in America in her exhibit "Faces of New America," which is touring libraries in MELSA (Metropolitan Library Service Agency), an alliance of over 100 public libraries in the seven-county 
Twin Cities metro area. The project includes 32 portraits of youth from immigrant families.

According to Nikpay, portraiture can be regarded as a complex site for exploring the relationship between identity and power. "One of the functions of the portrait is to validate how we'd like to appear to others and immortalize that image," Nikpay said. "The image continues our presence. It occupies a place in the mind of others and asserts itself in our absence. The issue of power could be very subtle or very obvious, as in the case of political figures."

In the case of the young people in this project, Nikpay empowers them by giving them a voice in how they want to be seen. A number of them chose to be seen in traditional clothes from the countries they are from. "They get to be presented on their own terms, in a public space," Nikpay said. "I hope to create a level of intimacy with the images that spark interest and questions from the viewers about the journey of the adolescent whose numbers are on the rise."

An immigrant from Iran, Nikpay said the project grew out of her own experience. She wanted to radically depart from well-trodden stories of immigrants' struggle and assimilation that she says are quite commonplace. Her own experience as an immigrant allows her to go deeper into understanding the experience of these young people because the majority of immigrants must constantly negotiate between their own cultural traditions and American values. "They have to balance values that they are taught at home with what they learn at school," she said. "Most often those values are in conflict."

Nikpay hopes to stir up dialogue regarding new immigrants' assimilation, and how it has changed from the past. "How do Midwesterners interact with their foreign-born neighbors and their offspring?" she said. "Do they, for example, like the average New Yorker, pride themselves in a city with a multiple languages and colors or prefer not mixing with the new immigrants?"

Editor's Note: This story first appeared in a longer format in the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

Faces of New America is on exhibit at the Chanhassen Library, 7711 Kerber Blvd., 
through March 31, 2011.

April 1-May 30, 2011:

Savage Library, 13090 Alabama Ave. S., and 
Prior Lake Library, 16210 Eagle Creek Ave. SE

June 1-29, 2011:

Hopkins Library, 22-11th Ave. N., and 
Ridgedale Library, 12601 Ridgedale Dr., Minnetonka


To see more of Jila Nikpay's work, visit her websites: and

All photographs©Jila Nikpay, 2010