NIRV Topic: Immigrant and Refugee Origins

“Where are you from?” is one of the most common questions new immigrants and refugees hear.  Depending on the tone of the question, the answer is given with pride, fear or resistance. Whatever the case, we Americans are often defined by our origins. Our diversity creates a rich cultural, social and economic experience. 

Here are the ten films from the New Immigrant and Refugee Visions (NIRV) collection – films by and about immigrants – organized by the origins of the filmmakers and subjects.

Before you watch them, please review the “Questions-to-consider…” at the bottom of this page.

African origins:

Asian origins:

Caribbean origins:

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Go to your Facebook page. Go to Create Post and select “Watch Party” from the lower-right pull-down of post activities. Cut and paste the following numbers, one at a time, to the bar at the top of the Add Videos dialogue window and click on “Add to Queue”:

NIRV Project Intro: 686543602110292;

Asian Origins: 229709691600942; 206022280700156; 1087539984948348;

African Origins: 342770766681667; 679964069419983; 2610133932534971

Caribbean Origins: 252670482574725;  216745356317259;  2828958147185853; 1196757437161244;

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Worlds Apart at Home (Original 9:58, Excerpt 00:58)
Filmmaker: Abdirahman Abdi
Editor: Peter Rhodes; Additional Sound: Mubarak Muwonge Nsamba
Samira Ahmed Fiin escaped with her family from Somalia as refugees to the United States in 2007. Now she negotiates tensions between parents and teenagers – as the young try to fit into and enjoy American culture and the old try to hold on to their Somali traditions.
Abdirahman Abdi
Emigrated from Somalia in 2007, lives in Roxbury, MA
Abdi came to America as a young boy and has remained active in his local and Somali community. He has volunteered his time and multi-media production skills to advance the work of the Somali Development Center and the North American Somali Students Union. Abdi graduated in May 2018 from UMass Boston with a degree in media communications and sociology. With continued mentoring from CSFilm, he has continued since the NIRV training to produce short documentaries on economic and social issues in his Roxbury neighborhood.  Abdi was hired in 2020 as a freelance videographer and editor by Boston news station, WCVB-TV, Ch 5.
Discussion Resources:

About the filmmaker and film:

About the issues brought up by the film:
About Issues of Acculturation and Assimilation:

More information about refugees and immigrants.

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:
Campaign for a New American (Original 10:41, Excerpt 00:50)
Filmmaker: Qin Li
Editor: Alex Morelli; Additional Sound and Camera: Abdirahman Abdi
An Indian immigrant’s daughter campaigns to be elected as the first woman of color to the city council of a working class town that has always been a magnet for immigrants. The town, 38% new immigrant, is still being run by the offspring of last century’s immigrants. The new folks on the block will sooner or later take the reins of power and responsibility – or will they?
Qin Li
Emigrated from China in 2015, lives in Revere, MA
Qin is a scholar-activist focused on women’s empowerment. She began her research on women in rural China. Now she works with women and immigrants from all over the world as a volunteer at Women Encouraging Empowerment in Revere.
Discussion Resources:
About Women in US Immigration
About Immigrants in US Politics
About the filmmaker and film:
Sayed Najib Hashimi
Emigrated from Afghanistan in 2016, lives in Washington, DC
Sayed grew up in Afghanistan and was a refugee in Pakistan. He has a degree in literature from Kabul University. He worked from 2005 to 2016 as a journalist and translator with the BBC and NATO Media Group in Afghanistan. In Nov 2016 Sayed and his family were granted permanent residency through the Special Immigration Visa to the United States. Until recently he worked at the New American Center in Lynn MA assisting Afghan and other new immigrants and refugees. He and his family now live in Washington DC where Sayed is working as a Communications Officer at the Afghan Embassy.
Discussion Resources:
About the issues brought up by the film:
Seeking Settled Ground (Original 13:57, Excerpt 1:21)
Filmmaker: Mohammad Arifuzzaman
Editors: Devvrat Mishra, Zayde Buti; Translators: Mustafa Samdani, Nahina Nasrin, and Mohammad Istiak
A young Rohingya man, Mohammad Anwar, escapes persecution in his native Myanmar, survives near death as a refugee and is finally granted asylum in the United States. Now he faces unimaginable obstacles as he struggles with a new language, the need for job skills – having only worked as a subsistence farmer – and the challenges of integrating into a new world and culture. He desperately misses his family, but is grateful to be alive and learning the ways of a new life that was inconceivable just a few months ago.
Mohammad Arifuzzaman
Emigrated from Bangladesh in 2015, lives in Quincy, MA
Mohammad is a software engineer with interests in music, theater and photography. He demonstrated incredible determination throughout the NIRV filmmaking process – filming all of one story only to have the family grow fearful about participating. His story about Mohammad Anwar is particularly relevant as so many Rohingya refugees have sought refuge in Bangladesh, his country of origin.
Discussion Resources:
About the filmmaking process and filmmaker:
About Mohammad Anwar, the subject of the film:
About the issues raised in the film:

More information about refugees and immigrants.

She’s an American Child (Original 10:41, Excerpt 1:18)
Filmmaker: Rafael DeLeon
Editor: Zayde Buti; Additional Sound: Sayed Hashimi; Additional Editor: Hannah Engelson
A dilemma of identity. A life of uncertainty. A woman facing domestic violence in the Dominican Republic escaped to the United States with her toddler daughter. The woman remains undocumented and her now 22-year old daughter has been granted protection by the US government through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Will one or both be deported? Will the daughter end up in the country she has not set foot in since she was five years old?
Rafael DeLeon
Emigrated from the Dominican Republic in 2009, lives in Lynn, MA
Rafael teaches computer literacy at the KIPP Academy Charter School in Lynn, where he first learned English upon arriving in America. He co-founded The Latino Support Network and produces “Camino hacia la Integracion” (Pathways to Integration), a local TV show that interviews immigrants about the many ways they integrate into American society.
Discussion Resources:
About the filmmaking process:
About the issues covered in the film:
Lift with Your Heart (Original 7:44, Excerpt 0:45)
Filmmaker: Braulio Tellez-Vilches
Editor: Alex Morelli; Additional Camera and Sound: Patricia Goudvis, Mohammad Arifuzzaman
Choreographer Jean Appolon struggled for years to find a sense of belonging in his native Haiti and in the United States. He discovered his purpose in teaching dance to heal and engage community members of all ages and backgrounds in celebrating cultural diversity.
Braulio Tellez-Vilches
Emigrated from Cuba in 2017, lives in East Boston, MA
Braulio was a professor and career diplomat in Cuba. He works at ABM Aviation as a safety and catering instructor and volunteers with Catholic Charities and the Irish International Immigrant Center. He is studying to become a Spanish teacher in the Boston Public Schools.
Discussion Resources:
About the filmmaker:
About Jean Appolon, the subject of the film:
About the issues covered in the film:
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:
Rhythms of Respect (Original 9:24, Excerpt 1:43)
Filmmaker: Katsyris Rivera-Kientz
Editor: Monica Cohen; Additional Sound and Camera: Monica Cohen; Additional Editor: Zayde Buti
Dynamo Puerto Rican dancer, musician, educator, and cultural activist, Jorge Arce, fosters inclusive communities by bringing people of all ages and backgrounds together to learn about Caribbean culture. As he says and demonstrates, “When you see the audience coming out, dancing, singing, playing the instruments… and they don’t want to stop… There are changes of behavior there. Changes of attitudes. There is acceptance also. There is recognition. And there is respect.”
Katsyris Rivera-Kientz
Moved from Puerto Rico* in 2016, lives in Cambridge, MA
Katsy is a scholar-activist who came to Boston in 2016 to join the Transnational, Cultural and Community Studies program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. She works closely with the Puerto Rican diaspora in the United States on issues related to Puerto Rican cultural identity and Puerto Rico’s political relationship with the United States. Currently, she is pursuing a PhD in Sociology at UMass Boston.

*Puerto Ricans are American citizens but many feel like immigrants in the US.

Discussion Resources:
About Jorge Arce, the subject of the film:
About the issues covered in the film:

Questions to Consider While Watching These Films

  1. What is “American” culture(s)? How much of the America that you know is the contribution of immigrants?
  2. Have you ever been, or witnessed someone being, misunderstood, stereotyped or attacked for what they look like or where they come from? What does being American mean to you? What actions do you take to deal with these differences and confrontations?
  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. Can you think of an occasion when you changed your mind about an issue? What would change people’s minds about immigrants or immigration?
  7. 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?)