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'Made by Refugee' Labels Pop Up on Sriracha, Books and Records Around NYC

By Allegra Hobbs | March 23, 2017 9:39pm | Updated on March 24, 2017 2:12pm
 Kien Quan launched the
Kien Quan launched the "Made by Refugee" project to remind people of valuable contributions refugees have made to society.
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Kien Quan

This Queens creative is on a mission to remind New Yorkers where we get our spice and flavor.

Photographer Kien Quan and his creative partner Jillian Young have traveled from borough to borough slapping goods with "made by refugee" stickers, from bottles of Sriracha chili sauce in an Astoria grocery store to books by Sigmund Freud and copies of the Bible at famed East Village shop The Strand — and they documented it all on camera so the project will live on past the stickers' shelf lives.

"I just had a thought, 'If this refugee didn't come over and create Sriracha, nobody in Brooklyn would be saying 'This is the newest rage,'" said Quan of the iconic sauce created by Vietnamese refugee David Tran.

Quan, 26, was moved to launch the project after the first iteration of President Donald Trump's refugee ban was implemented in late January, he said. He read an article noting a resistance to accepting refugees after the Vietnam War, and realized Americans may not be drowning their food in the now-famous Sriracha sauce if Tran had not been allowed in the country. 

So he decided to remind local shoppers who should take the credit for their most cherished products.

The artists carried out the sticker campaign over several days about a month ago, and put up a video March 15 documenting the project. Quan has also posted a downloadable sticker sheet to his website so others can put more refugee labels on city goods.

Quan says he hopes if someone supporting Trump's policies picks up a record or book they love and spots the sticker, they may rethink their position on immigration and refugee entry.

"I have family that were migrants in the past. I'm Vietnamese," said Quan. "Most of my friends are immigrants or are of color, so they all feel very concerned.

"I just felt like something had to be said — at the very minimum, let me see if I can change one person's perspective or get them to think about the subject a little differently."

So far, the reaction has been positive, he said — he has received thanks from refugees who saw the project, and says employees at The Strand and the local groceries who caught onto his antics were supportive.

"I think it's been rather positive — New York is a Yankee state," said Quan. "If this was somewhere in the middle of America I would have pitchforks running at me."