“It’s taken me a long time to learn that when talking with those whose opinions are different from mine I can’t be curious and judgmental at the same time.” — This was said by an audience member during a New Immigrant and Refugee Visions (NIRV) Screen & Discuss event in Saint Paul, Minnesota. A deep breath and ‘ah ha’ rippled across the room as each recognized or grappled with the potential of being curious about and non-judgmental of those they disagree with.
In this case, at the Wilder Foundation in Saint Paul, many in the audience came to the discussion with a welcoming attitude toward immigrants and refugees and a belief that immigration is fundamental and beneficial to life in the US. The question put forward by presenter Michael Sheridan, CSFilm’s Founding Director, was how to talk one-on-one with people that have a different opinion about and experience of immigrants and refugees?
How can those welcoming to immigrants and refugees work toward solutions to the divisions over immigration by listening to the experiences of those that resist immigrants and refugees? We may be sympathetic to the economic, social and political challenges facing new immigrants and refugees but have we heard the concerns of those whose economic, social or political vulnerabilities lead them to believe that they are not being heard and that immigrants are a further threat to their well-being? How do we address their concerns as well as those of new immigrants and refugees by being curious and non-judgmental?
In Rochester, Minnesota at a NIRV Screen & Discuss organized by the Diversity Council, new immigrant and native-born audience members found common ground in what surprised them about aspects of the films’ stories. The new immigrant was surprised to realize that other immigrant communities, whose youth seem so obedient and disciplined, deal with inter-generational tensions. Similarly for native-born audience members, it hadn’t occurred to them that any new immigrant families deal with what they thought was the American phenomenon of adolescent resistance. Another second-generation American said that they had never come to terms with their grandparents ‘obsession’ with their country of origins’ culture, language and religion. The films allowed her to experience and understand this universal tendency through the lives of others.
Common ground can be found and our entrenched and ever more violent divisions addressed. To do so, many in these Minnesota audiences agreed to push themselves on a daily basis to talk to people outside their circles — with curiosity and without judgment.