The filmmakers that participated in the New Immigrant and Refugee Visions project got together in person on July 30 for the first time since the beginning of COVID. They were joined by volunteers and CSFilm staff alumni who made the 15-week training and 1 year filmmaking project possible. The training took place in 2015 and led to the creation of 10 short films on immigrant and refugee stories that are gathered in the collection, New Immigrant and Refugee Visions (NIRV). The gathering was hosted at the home of Michael Sheridan, director of CSFilm, and his wife Anuradha Desai.
There was a warm and instant reconnection between the filmmakers. Perhaps because for some this was one of their first experiences after arriving in the US either as a new immigrant or refugee. For others it may have been the first time they interacted with people from outside their ethnic group, region, or native language. NIRV brought together people from 10 different countries of origin and 8 different languages.
Braulio, the maker of Lift with Your Heart, arrived in the US some months before the training began. He had taken an arduous journey over sea and land from Cuba to the Mexican US border, where he requested asylum. Braulio was still living in a shelter when the training started. Since then he has worked very hard to pass the exams required to teach High School Spanish. He got his first teaching position in Brockton and now teaches at Peabody High School where he is the only Black person on staff.
Mubarak, maker of Pulse of a Dream, arrived in 2017, the year of the training. He joined us with his wife Zaamu and their four children. He arrived on the sunny deck with a boisterous “Shall we?!” the phrase Michael used during the training to get the group back to work after breaks.
Mubarak and his family have continued the story in his film’s self-portrait. Zaamu works in the very hard business of health care assistance at nursing homes. She has had Covid twice and took it hard both times. She still dreams of getting back to school and returning to her original career of Library Sciences. Mubarak has continued his studies in IT and is now enrolled in Northeastern University’s degree program. He described how tough it is to try and take two expensive courses a semester, plus working full time and raising 4 children. Reentering one’s profession is an incredible challenge that eludes most new immigrants and refugees arriving in the United States. In other countries, such as Germany, refugees and immigrants are enrolled in paid apprenticeships that align with their professions.
Sayed, maker of Navigating Hope, and his family of 5 arrived as refugees from Afghanistan the year before the training. He could not join us on Saturday because he moved to DC soon after the training to become a Communication Officer at the Afghan Embassy – where he put his video skills to work. He lost that job when the Taliban took over last year and now works with a refugee resettlement agency in Virginia.
Mohammad, nickname Roman, arrived from Bangladesh with his wife and son in 2015. His wife had a work visa for the IT industry. Roman was not allowed to work. Now he has a work permit, his family has received permanent residency and they have bought a house! He too is working in IT. Roman made the film Seeking Settled Ground. The subject of his film, Anwar – a Rohingya refugee, has moved to Nashua New Hampshire, where there is a Rohingya community. Anwar is settled, learning English and steadily employed. His family however remains in refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Qin arrived at the reunion with her two sons and husband, dumplings, and big hugs for everyone. It was great to learn that even with the demands of her family she is now Manager of the Statewide Parent Leadership Program at Families First. Families First is a Massachusetts nonprofit that brings parents of young children together in their communities so they can strengthen their parenting knowledge, skills, and support systems. Qin’s program elevates the essential role of parents in shaping equitable local policies and systems that impact their children’s lives.
Rafael arrived from the Dominican Republic in 2009 to join his family of 5 already living in Lynn Massachusetts. He continues his work teaching computer literacy at the Kipp Academy Charter school and developing The Latino Support Network, a local non-profit he co-founded. The Latino Support Network has expanded from ESL classes and other basic supports to become a Community Development Cooperation (CDC). As a CDC it is taking on a broad spectrum of issues in Lynn including the pressing need for affordable housing. Rafael made the film She’s an American Child about Annabelle, a DREAMer, and Esther her undocumented mother. They are still waiting for the Biden Administration to follow through on its campaign promise to provide residency for the millions of DREAMers and their families.
Abdi and Kebrewosen, nickname Kiki, were the two participants in NIRV that came to the US as children. Kiki, maker of Borrowing Fire, emigrated with her parents and two sisters from Ethiopia. Abdi’s extended family came as refugees from Somalia. Kiki continues her work in public health at the Boston Children’s Hospital. Abdi, maker of Worlds Apart at Home, has moved from his position as freelance videographer at Boston’s Channel 5 news to a full time position at a news channel in Minneapolis. Abdi continues to receive mentorship from CSFilm in the production of short films on issues facing the Somali community. Minneapolis is home to the largest Somali community in the United States.
The filmmakers were joined by members of the talented and dedicated support team that made the project possible: editor Peter Rhodes, also an immigrant from the UK, editor and project coordinator Zayde Buti, public engagement coordinator, Sarah Chappell-Sokol, a new mom!, close friends and supporters Richard and Dorothy Koerner and volunteer extraordinaire, supporter and close friend, Christine Arveil.
The gathering ended in the early evening after a smaller group engaged in an interesting conversation about people’s hopes and anxieties related to current affairs in the US. There was remarkable optimism felt by many about the capacity and intentions of their children and the next generation. No one questioned, however, the work and determination needed to change the current course of the country. While there is much darkness many felt that it was better that this darkness, in the form of white supremacy and other conservative movements, is out in the open rather than masked.
We look forward to many more reunions. There is talk of getting a group chat back in place to allow for better communications and to make sure we have regular get-togethers.