Local refugees and vets featured in ‘Voices from the Long War’ at Yale
As the refugee crisis intensifies across the world, the Telling Project is giving New Haven Iraqi and Afghan refugees and veterans alike a platform for their stories in “Voices from the Long War,” which will premiere at the Yale Cabaret on April 28 and 29.
The production is a series of monologues performed by the veterans and the refugees about their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, and traces how both veterans and refugees strive to return home or build a new one in an America removed from the war, according to the organizers.
Thomas Berry, an M.A. candidate at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and himself a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, decided to help bring the production to Yale after walking through Memorial Hall at the Schwarzman Center one day. As he inspected the names of the Yalies killed in action that are inscribed there, he noticed none were from the present era of conflict.
“I’m glad — despite some who’ve served, Yale has been spared tragedy,” he said. “Yet that fact also reflects how insulated one of the most influential institutions in American society really is from ground-level realities of the war, and the recovery that follows.”
Berry then learned about The Telling Project, a performing arts non-profit that organizes productions nationwide of veterans telling their stories to civilian audiences. Deciding to combine the stories of veterans with the stories of refugees, he started reaching out to veterans and refugees in New Haven.
After Berry had enough volunteers for the project — three refugees and three veterans, including two Yale students — Jonathan Wei of The Telling Project began interviewing them, amassing over 25 hours of interviews. Wei’s next step was to condense the interviews into a single cohesive narrative that “juxtaposes elements from each cast member’s experiences in a way that will cause the audience to question their assumptions about war, refugees, and veterans,” said Berry.
“I wanted to give the Yale-New Haven community access to the living legacies of the wars around them — both veterans’ and refugees’ — because the story is larger than those of us who served for a few years in uniform,” he explained. “All of our refugees volunteered to serve with U.S. forces in some way or another, as an interpreter or another type of worker. All were threatened with death, and all have faced animosity since arriving in the United States.
“A key focus of our work is to complicate the labels that surround both veterans and refugees,” he continued. “Words like ‘hero’ and ‘terrorist’ chafe on each other; both [veterans and refugees] share the burden of words like ‘victim,’ when in fact both are remarkably resilient. While veterans are given a platform in society, refugees rarely are.”