Immigrants and the topic of immigration generally has been a touchy subject and highly politicized for years. The past year, however, has seen a significant increase in media coverage of so-called “nationalism” and rising fears about and for immigrants in the United States, as well as across the world.
I blogged about two experiences I had with immigrants in New York City – one in which I felt a woman who couldn’t speak much English was being strong-armed and one in which I met a woman who was a math professor in her native country and now a tui na massage therapist in her new country. You can read those posts here and here. The experiences inspired me to approach the Board of the Film Lab, an entertainment media non-profit I am the president of, to see if the Film Lab could utilize the arts to draw together people from all walks of life to have an open and honest dialogue about immigration and what it means to be an “American,” in a safe space that would allow people to admit fears they might have and address them in a constructive way. The answer was an overwhelming YES!
We began by soliciting short written stories based on the writers’ personal experiences from people across the country. I’m excited to be able to use this blog to publish those stories and we invite everyone to – politely and constructively, please – comment and share their own stories and ask the writers questions online. You can use the blog posts or join the conversation on Facebook.com/AsAmFilmLab or on Twitter @asamfilmlab #Immigrant #American #RepresentationMatters #ImmigrantsTheyAreUsWeAreThem
The second prong of the project consists of collecting video footage of people from around the country, describing what “immigrant” means to them. Those tapes will be rolling out on Facebook.com/AAFLTV and on the Film Lab’s YouTube channel, www.YouTube.com/asamfilmlab. Again, please comment, question, like, share, and take part in the dialogue. Feel free to upload your own video describing what “immigrant” means to you, what you think it means to be an “American,” and what your feelings are on the topic of immigration.
Finally, we will be holding live events in New York City, using live theatre, film and television to create interactive, open and honest conversation about immigrants, immigration and what it means to be an “American.”
I am thrilled to announce that our first stage event is a collaboration with The Tank and Leviathan Lab that will take place in February 2019 at The Tank in New York City. Leviathan’s Executive Director, Ariel Estrada, will be working with me and with all of the Film Lab team to create a stage piece for the public. We hope to raise more funds to create multiple live and interactive events across the city.
I’m excited about this project and hope you’ll join us in reaching out to create a real conversation about a topic that has become anything but simple.
A special thanks to the writers contributing to this project:
April Xiong is a writer, director, and editor. Her short film "Drive," adapted from the poetry of Hettie Jones, was featured in the 2018 Visible Poetry Project. Having traveled the world in search of unheard stories, she is devoted to exploring the voice of the other in her writing and films. Social Media & Websites:
Avantika contributes to spiraling up justice through direct service (particularly to immigrant survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and/or modern-day slavery), uplifting diverse candidates into the legal profession, and collaboratively detonating injustice and prejudice. Avantika has defended (adult & child) immigrants at the US-Mexico border and served as a founding attorney in San Francisco's immigrant defense network. Her Sacramento-based law practice operates at the intersection of immigration & human rights. Prior to law school, Avantika studied environmental and gender policy in the U.S., India, & Nepal. She prefers milk chocolate to dark.
Eriko Tsogo is a Mongolian American visual artist and filmmaker born on the steppes of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Eriko grew up in Budapest, Hungary and immigrated to the United States with her family at the age of 8. She is an alumni of Denver School of the Arts (2008), having attained her B.F.A (2012) from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and Tufts University. She is based in Denver and mindscape Mongolia but lives bi-coastally in the US. Eriko has had numerous art shows, curatorial projects and art residencies throughout the United States. Alongside pursuing her artistic practice, Eriko works as the Creative Director at the Mongolian Culture and Heritage Center of Colorado. She is also a published author and founder of “HiliteDreamer”contemporary apparel line. She is currently in process of completing her first international documentary animation film project between Colorado and Mongolia, due to release in 2019. Eriko’s ever-revolving identity as a first generation Mongolian American nomadic voyeur profoundly shapes her artistic process. Her artworks act as part biographical expose, portraying the universal psychological inner journey of the marginal identity thereby helping transform through the power of empathy, inspiration, and empowerment.
Jen Yen (me!)
My bio is here
Roman Sotelo is a graduate of Digital Photography and Imaging in Pratt Institute and Digital Cinematography in New York University. He is currently studying Filmmaking in School of Visual Arts. www.romansotelofilm.com
Rosa H. Soy
Rosa Soy received a “Meet the Composer” grant for the “Future Feminine”a mixed-media project, and is the co-writer of The Rose Slippers,a children’s musical, an award recipient of the 2004 Jackie White Children’s theater competition. Rosa’s plays Esperanzaand The Planhave received staged readings at New Jersey regional theaters. Her play Venial Sinswas selected for the 2004 Samuel French festival in New York. And her short playPigeonswas presented at the 2005 Samuel French festival in New York. Her play “Off Balance” was presented at Luna Stage Theater Company in Montclair NJ. Rosa served as playwright in residence for Passaic County Community College during 2009 and 2010. She is currently working on a book about her experiences as an immigration lawyer.
Shu-Ju Ada Cheng
Ada Cheng is a professor-turned storyteller and performing artist. She has been featured at storytelling shows in Chicago, Atlanta, Cedar Rapids, New York, Asheville, and Kansas City. She debuted her first solo show, Not Quite: Asian American by Law, Asian Woman by Desire, in January 2017, which later received a great review from Washington Post. She debuted her second solo show, Breaking Rules, Broken Hearts: Loving across Borders, with Fillet of Solo in January 2018. In addition to performing it at The Exit Theatre in San Francisco in June, she will also bring it to the United Solo Theatre Festival New York in October this year. Ada is the producer and the host of the show, Am I Man Enough: A Storytelling/Podcasting Show, where people tell personal stories to critically examine the culture of toxic masculinity and the construction of masculinity and manhood. She is also the co-producer and co-host of Talk Stories: An Asian American/Asian Diaspora Storytelling Show, a show that features Asian/Asian American performing artists and storytellers. Her motto: Make your life the best story you tell. Her website: www.renegadeadacheng.com.
Val Valtrain is a writer, a mother, an American, an immigrant, and the daughter of immigrants. She is interning with the Film Lab.
Widelyne was born in Haiti and migrated to the United States at the age of 3 with her mother. Widelyne is now a citizen, a licensed practical nurse and an actor.
**Special thanks to Ricardo Arechiga for his graphic design of the project logo**