Young Cash Karen is an ongoing project about a close-knit community of young refugees from Myanmar (or Burma) who have resettled in Rochester, New York. They are Karen (pronounced kuh-ren), a Burmese ethnic minority that has fought a decades long and still ongoing civil war against the Burmese government over the native lands of their people and for their very right to exist. For most or all of their lives, the young men of Young Cash Karen lived in remote refugee camps across the Burmese border in Thailand, until taking the leap to resettle in the United States during a now-ended program under the Obama administration. Some came with family members and some came alone. Young Cash Karen is the self-chosen name of the brotherhood they have formed together. They proudly use the name to express a sense of belonging and solidarity amongst each other and with the global Karen refugee diaspora.
The project has developed into a multilayered and nuanced exploration of the intersections of culture, ethnicity, and gender. It portrays a tribe of young men who are experiencing the difficult process of displacement and cultural adaptation. Yet despite their hardships they retain a sense of unapologetic pride of their identity and history. Both the subtle and apparent effects of globalisation, assimilation to American society, and the preservation of parts of their endangered Southeast Asian culture create a compelling mixture of fashion, music, language, and lifestyle.
Jade Thiraswas is a Thai-American visual storyteller. She was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and raised between there and Southeast Asia. Her work celebrates the complexities of cultural identity, community, and representation while working against a history of colonialism, otherness, and patriarchy in the documentary photographic tradition. She often works collaboratively with her subjects, challenging notions of artistic authority and subjectivity. Her ongoing project “Young Cash Karen” follows a tight-knit brotherhood of young refugees from Myanmar who have resettled in Upstate New York.
Jade attended New Orleans Center for Creative Arts in high school, going on to earn her BFA in photography and art history at Memphis College of Art in 2015, and her MFA in photography & related media at Rochester Institute of Technology in 2018. She is a member of Women Photograph, a contributor to the New York Times, and was an artist in residence at The Center for Photography at Woodstock, New York.