Louisville photographer’s work tells local immigrant story as part of ‘PBS American Portrait’ that airs in August

Amira Karaoud sought to tell the immigrant story for the upcoming special “Family of Us: A PBS American Portrait Story” that premieres Aug. 2

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By Elizabeth Kramer

A montage of faces from “PBS American Portraits,” a project that includes a special “Family of Us: A PBS American Portrait Story” premiering Aug. 2. It includes a segment from Louisville-based photographer and artist Amira Karoud. Courtesy PBS American Portraits. Courtesy PBS/Radical Media.

In an interview, a Louisville teenager, Jocy P., at times fights back tears as she talks about how difficult it has been in the past few months not having her father around. She talks about her love and respect for him.

“Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I really love you,” Jocy P. says to her father via the screen.

Since 2019, her father has been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Photographer and artist Amira Karaoud, who has documented immigrants and displaced people in the United States and the Middle East for several years, filmed this excerpt that is part of the PBS special “Family of Us: A PBS American Portrait Story.” It premieres Aug. 2. The Tunisian-born reporter calls Louisville home, after dividing her time between New York City and Louisville, where she first came to visit her brother who lives here.

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“Family of Us: A PBS American Portrait Story” is a montage focusing on an array of families today and how relationships within them influence and form lives. It also is part of “PBS American Portrait,” a national storytelling project associated with PBS’s 50th anniversary and launched in January. The project has set out to painstakingly portray the country through responses to different questions it asks on the project’s website and the profiles its producers compile through crowdsourced materials and specials like “Family of Us.”

Louisville-based photographer and artist Amira Karoud, who worked on a segment for “Family of Us: A PBS American Portrait Story.” Courtesy Amira Karoud.

Karaoud pitched this immigrant story, among others.

“It’s a big part of what people think of America outside of the country. But this doesn’t come to light too much here,” Karaoud said. “That creates tension between immigrants and non-immigrants.”

Rebecca Blumhagen, a producer with Radical Media and “PBS American Portrait,” worked with Karaoud.

“I could see a real passion for telling authentic stories and stories that not everyone sees or knows about,” Blumhagen said. “She found a very beautiful story, and everyone was really excited for Amira’s Louisville story.”

In “Family of Us: A PBS American Portrait Story,” Jocy P. speaks about her father who has been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement since 2019. The segment was contributed by Louisville-based photographer and artist Amira Karoud. Courtesy PBS American Portraits. Courtesy PBS/Radical Media.

Karaoud, who has worked with Louisville’s immigrant community and organizations including Americana World Community Center and La Casita Center, learned the PBS project was seeking applications from photographers and filmmakers and applied in March. A few months later, she became a part of the project and filmed her segment in June.

“One of my goals as a photographer and journalist is to bring back something to the community so that they open their arms to me and tell me their stories.,” Karaoud said. “So, by seeing their stories nationally, it would help empower them.”

Karaoud said she met Jocy P. while working on a campaign with the immigrant community to lobby against Kentucky Senate Bill 1, which was introduced during the last legislative session.

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The legislation — which prohibits state and local public agencies, police and public universities from ratifying what have been called sanctuary laws or policies involving illegal immigration — caused an outcry among people working with immigrants and others in civil rights-based organizations. Other interests, including those associated with agriculture, have spoken out against the bill. Opponents argued the legislation, if passed, could lead to racial profiling. On Feb. 4, Kentucky’s State Senate passed the bill (28-10) and the next day it moved to the House of Representatives, where it stayed in committee until the session’s end.

Karaoud said working on “Family of Us: A PBS American Portrait Story” allowed her to check on people she had met through her work. She added that Jocy P. wanted her and her father’s story to be public.

“She wanted to share it with the world and what it means for her to be separated from her father,” Karaoud said.

Karaoud’s dedication to telling immigrants’ stories has only grown since the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States.

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“I have started focusing more on the (immigrant) community. I initially started interviewing and working with immigrant journalists,” she said. “I realized that there is a lack of information and the community is even more isolated. The majority of them are the workers because they are most exposed to the virus because they still go out to work. They have a lot of struggles feeding their kids since they aren’t in school anymore and don’t have access to food at school.”

Blumhagen said that including Karaoud fitted with her goal of having “as many different perspectives behind the camera as in front of the camera.”

In front of the camera, “Family of Us: A PBS American Portrait Story” — like other “PBS American Portrait” specials — presents perspectives from a spectrum of people from across the country and with different backgrounds.

“Family of Us: A PBS American Portrait Story”

  • Sunday, Aug. 2 | 10:30 p.m. | KET

  • Wednesday, Aug. 5 | 5:30 a.m. | KET

  • Wednesday, Aug. 5 | 10:30 p.m. | KET2

  • Friday, Aug. 7 | 2:30 a.m. | KET2

  • Also available streaming Aug. 2 on PBS.org and the PBS Video App for iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, YouTube TV and Chromecast.

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Elizabeth Kramer, a multimedia journalist who has worked for newspapers and public radio, was a leading voice on the arts as the fine arts reporter at Louisville’s Courier Journal from 2010 to 2017. Her work has aired on National Public Radio and appeared in national publications. Never miss an update.