Young Cash Karen is an ongoing body of work about a community of young men refugees from Burma (or Myanmar) who have recently resettled in Western New York State. They are members of the Karen, a Burmese ethnic minority that has fought a decades-long civil war against the Burmese government over the native lands of their people and for their very right to exist. The Karen people have been the victims of ethnic-cleansing policies by the oppressive Burmese military regime. For most or all of their lives, the young men of Young Cash Karen lived in refugee camps across the Burmese border in Thailand, until taking the leap to resettle in the United States.

Young Cash Karen is comprised of portraiture, in both still and moving images, of these young men and their current lives in the United States. The work has developed into a multi-layered and nuanced exploration of the intersections of culture, ethnicity, and identity. 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. They fearlessly announce their outsider status to the Western world, while such simple acts of freedom and self-expression would be forbidden from their people in Burma. The core intent of Young Cash Karen is to create a poetic resistance to oppression.

The title, Young Cash Karen, comes from the same name the young men have chosen to represent and mythologize themselves. They proudly use the name to express a sense of belonging and solidarity. This works portrayal of young adulthood and refugeeism crosses and blends boundaries and cultures. Both the subtle and apparent effects of colonialism, 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.

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Photography and Related Media (MFA)

Department, Program, or Center

School of Photographic Arts and Sciences (CIAS)


Christine Shank

Advisor/Committee Member

Roberley Bell


RIT – Main Campus