Mohammed and his mother Jinan struggle daily as they step outside the tiny room they share in a family-run shelter on the outskirts of Philadelphia. When asked if they would like to return to Iraq, they quickly retort “It’s impossible.” The mother and the son sought refuge from the hate and war that tore their family apart and robbed Mohammed of his right leg, which was ruined by a car bomb in 2006 when he was just 12 years old. Jinan says she brought Mohammed to America to give him a future “with something more than a job at the Falluja police station,” like his father.

She wants him to get an education and both relish the freedom to do and think as they please. After a year living in temporary housing shelters, the two obtained political asylum in 2010, and have taken the first small steps toward their American dream. In this set of photos, as Mohammed turns 17 and ever closer to manhood, a sense of excitement and frustration pervades the small room they call home, and shapes the relationship between mother and son.

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