farras abdelnour

Fine art and documentary photographer
Dean of Union Square
Location: New York/San Francisco
Nationality: USA
Biography: A New York/San Francisco based freelance photographer specializing in fine arts and documentaries, Farras was born in Germany to Syrian parents. In July 2017 he finished the graduate program in digital photography at the School of Visual Arts,... MORE
Public Story
Dean of Union Square
Copyright farras abdelnour 2023
Updated Sep 2022
Location New York City
Topics feature, news, Personal
One serendipitous spring day in 2015, I happened upon Saravuth Inn near the southwest corner of Union Square Park, Manhattan. He ardently recounted his odyssey from Cambodia as a young teenager during the Vietnam War to America and the hardships and challenges he encountered, and his status as displaced. Saravuth made a living out of playing chess in the park year-round.

Inn lost his family toward the end of the Vietnam War. In 1975, as America decamped from Southeast Asia, he was flown to the US, part of the Operation Babylift. An American family adopted him, but after physical and verbal abuses he became a ward of the state of New Jersey.

Inn won a scholarship at Rutgers University. He eventually settled in Canada where he met his future wife, but was divorced eighteen years later. Inn returned to a post-9/11 America in 2008, without travel documents. His only proof of identity was a Washington Post article featuring his arduous story. The authorities classified him as displaced. “In trying to recover everything that I’ve lost,” he said, “I’ve lost everything that I had.”

He settled in Union Square where he quickly established himself as one of the dominant chess players. The community of the park regulars was supportive of Saravuth, but he remained largely homeless until 2017.

Inn's wish was to move to his country of birth. His legal status in the US was in a state of limbo. He smoked marijuana daily to alleviate a condition of epilepsy he was afflicted with due to a bomb fragment he suffered as a child. In an age of catastrophic wars forcing massive migrations, Saravuth’s story is highly topical. Saravuth passed on in New York City in late 2019, ailing and destitute.

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Dean of Union Square by farras abdelnour
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