Dexter Phoenix’s travels as a war correspondent have led him to conflict areas such as Angola, Algeria, Somalia, Colombia, Palestine, and Lebanon, where he was one of only a few photographers who stayed amid the heaviest Israeli shelling in 2006.
“War? I love it! I can’t get enough of it. I’m a war junkie,” said Phoenix, who would have traveled to Iraq had he not run out of money.
Embarking on dangerous exotic journeys is not the only necessity in the 34-year-old legal alien’s life. From the time he arrived in Salem five months ago, he has lived with two different local families who have taken him into their homes, providing him with food and shelter while he attempts to find work as a photographer. “I feel like I’ve been adopted by these families,” laughed Phoenix.
He’s got the skills, the equipment, and the experience of a top-of-the-line photojournalist, but this may be a curse as much as it is a blessing. Many businesses don’t want to hire someone whose work experience is so specialized.
“I have covered every kind of professional photographic subject, making me extremely flexible. But sadly, there is a lack of photographic work in Oregon to exploit my skills,” he said.
During other dry times, he’s worked on the oil rigs in North Africa, in construction and in high-end sports car sales, but like most artists, he wants to stick to his talents.
“I don’t want to wear suits and I don’t want to be stuck in an office,” he said, “I want to excel at what I do best.”
The clock is ticking as Phoenix struggles to get by through others’ generosity and the small resale value of his old pictures.
He came to U.S. in 2007 to work as a news photographer for a European press company in Los Angeles.
“I was making a fortune; I had it made. And then I lost it all in an expensive divorce,” he said.
He befriended a court translator from Salem in L.A., who proposed the idea of starting over in Oregon.
With two years left on his work visa and completely out of money, Phoenix is beginning to despair. A visa extension would be costly, and it’s difficult to find an employer willing to sponsor him.
Lack of U.S. citizenship exacerbates the problem because, unlike other low-income residents, he can’t apply for government benefits such as emergency unemployment, welfare, or even student loans. Without his family to fall back on, he has to rely on the acquaintances he makes along the way.
But returning to England is not an option.
“I fought and worked very hard to get here. The last thing I want is to go back to that hell hole! This is now my home, and there’s no other place I’d rather live in, or work in,” said Phoenix, who finds his home country to be cold and expensive, and his countrymen rude and aggressive.
“Americans are extremely friendly people. They’ve been more hospitable and friendly to me here than in any country in Europe,” he said.
If he doesn’t find a way to regain his independence, Phoenix is afraid he will run out of families to adopt him sooner rather than later.
“I’m starting to feel like an orphan. Like anyone in the world, Americans are only going to have so much patience and tolerance,” he said.
Unlike some other immigrants, Phoenix has the advantage of speaking the language of the land, and an accent many Americans are fond of. Because of that and because of the shared history between the two countries, he believes he has received a warm welcome in Cherry City.
“I want a job, a home, a wife, and a big dog,” dreamed Phoenix. “Any job offers or advice would be much appreciated. I am willing to fly to the moon and back if I have to, to succeed in America.”
Phoenix can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org