NIRV Topic: Immigrants at Work

How do new immigrants and refugees adjust to work life in America and contribute to the economy and workforce? For many the image of the American dream that they came with is very different than the American economic and social reality they face once they arrive.

Here are three films from the New Immigrant and Refugee Visions (NIRV) collection – films by and about immigrants – that highlight immigrants at work. Before you watch them, please review the “Questions-to-consider…” below the films.

  • Pulse of a Dream, by Mubarak Muwonge Nsamba, 11 min – Mubarak and his wife just arrived with their four children from Uganda and need work. Their Ugandan community helps them get jobs in health care but what about the professions they were trained in, IT and library sciences?
  • Borrowing Fire, by Kebrewosen Densamo, 13 min – Yonas, a recent immigrant from Ethiopia, is a business man with a religious zeal.  He is a evangelical pastor and the owner of a gas station and coffee shop  – all put to the use of helping his community.
  • The Arranger, by Wilson Thelimo Louis, 9 min – The Haitian community in the Mattapan and Hyde Park neighborhoods of Boston is almost completely self dependent, a condition common to many immigrant communities. The support they give each other helps families adjust and thrive. It also inhibits assimilation into the larger culture.
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Pulse of a Dream (Original 11:13, Excerpt 1:46)
Filmmaker: Mubarak Muwonge Nsamba
Editor: Zayde Buti; Additional Editor: Heather Cassano
Why do different ethnic groups end up pigeon-holed in particular industries: Vietnamese flooring refinishers, Ugandan and Haitian health workers…? A Ugandan immigrant turns the camera on himself and his family as he struggles to understand why he, his wife and most of their fellow Ugandans, with degrees in other professions, are working as nursing assistants. He’s surprised to discover that the Ugandan version of the American dream involves taking care of America’s sick and elderly.
Mubarak Muwonge Nsamba
Emigrated from Uganda in 2017, lives in Lowell, MA
Mubarak studied forestry in Uganda, but worked in IT, website design and digital filmmaking. His wife, Zaamu, studied Library Sciences and worked as an academic librarian. They applied for and won the Diversity Green Card lottery, which allowed them to come with their four young children to the US.
Discussion Resources:
About the issues raised in the film:
About Immigrants and Work in the US:
Borrowing Fire (Original 13:07, Excerpt 1:31)
Filmmaker: Kebrewosen Densamo
Editor: Lydia Eccles; Additional Editor: Jorgy Cruz
“In Ethiopia, growing up, we used to go to the neighbor and say, ‘Can I borrow some fire?’ because we didn’t have matches.” Yonas tells this story to his congregation as an analogy for their relationship with God, borrowing God’s “fire” to warm and feed their own lives. It also symbolizes what Yonas sees as his purpose as an immigrant – to help people in his community recover from addiction, depression and homelessness. Contrary to stereotypes about immigrants and rural Americans, Yonas finds that his immigrant heritage, accent and personality opens doors for his work as a businessman and evangelical preacher.
Kebrewosen Densamo
Emigrated from Ethiopia in 2001, lives in Cambridge, MA
Kebrewosen has a degree in public health and works at Boston Children’s Hospital. Arriving in the United States in 2001 as a young girl, she has a special understanding of the challenges for youth in migration. She is actively involved with her local cable access station and hopes to use documentary filmmaking to integrate her love of film and her infectious desire to help people.
Discussion Resources:
The Arranger (Original 9:30, Excerpt 1:22)
Filmmaker: Wilson Thelimo Louis
Editor: Zayde Buti
The Haitian community in Boston is almost completely self dependent, a condition common to many immigrant communities. The support they give each other helps families adjust and thrive. It also inhibits assimilation into the dominant culture. One Haitian immigrant helps other Haitian immigrants – some who have been here for decades – deal with not knowing English, and all the practical aspects of life in the US. By doing so he highlights the self-supporting and isolated nature of many immigrant communities.
Wilson Thelimo Louis
Emigrated from Haiti in 2016, lives in Hyde Park, MA
Thelimo is a poet and activist immersed in Haitian literature, social issues and politics. He studied law in Haiti and had a paralegal fellowship in Boston. As he pursues further studies he continues to volunteer and use his skills in a variety of jobs.
Discussion Resources:
About the issues raised in the film:

Questions to Consider While Watching These Films

  1. Do you work in the same industry as most of your friends and family or is this a unique and acceptable aspect of the immigrant experience?
  2. Are immigrants increasing or decreasing economic growth and opportunity in the United States and how does this impact you?
  3. What stood out to you? What will you tell your friends about? 
  4. What did you relate to? What reminded you of things in your own life? 
  5. What felt unfamiliar, new or surprising?  
  6. What do you want to change in your community after “meeting” these immigrants and learning about their experiences? (e.g., Individual behaviors? Public policies? Local media perspectives of your immigrant neighbors?)