The New Americans: A Documentary about Recent US Immigrants

Let’s start out with a little “quiz”:

Question: Which of the following people was born in the United States?

Madeline Albright (former US Secretary of State), Andrew Grove (businessman at Intel), Jennifer Lopez (entertainer),Gene Simmons (from the band, KISS), Patrick Ewing (basketball player)

Answer: Jennifer Lopez (All of the others are first-generation immigrants to the United States: Madeleine Albright from Czechoslovakia, Andrew Grove from Hungary, Gene Simmons from Israel and Patrick Ewing from Jamaica.)

Immigrants.  Immigration. These are “loaded” words in the US. Oddly enough, unless your family was originally from the land that became the United States, you were an immigrant.

I recently had the pleasure of coming across an excellent 7 hour documentary entitled “The New Americans” that chronicles the immigrant experience of several new (US) Americans who are originally from Nigeria (Israel and Ngozi Nwidor/Barine Wiwa-Lawani come as refugees), The West Bank (Naima Saadeh Abudayyeh comes to marry an American), Dominican Republic (José Garcia and Ricardo Rodriguez come to play baseball),  Mexico (Pedro Flores and his family come for work) and India (Anjan Bachu comes as a tech worker on an H1B visa.)  Each of their stories is incredibly moving.  Here is a preview:

This film covers the immigrants over several years.  We learn about and see their lives prior to coming to the US.  We witness the pain of the Nigerians in the refugee camp.  We hear their ideas on what America will be like and how they cannot wait to experience a “hamburger.”  (Sadly, their first is from a fast food restaurant, and one cannot help but chuckle at Israel Nwidor’s expression as he takes his first bite!) We hear the hope in their voices, as José and Ricardo speak of their desire to make it in the big American leagues so that they can take care of their families in the D.R.  We see Naima and her family embrace and cry at the thought of her leaving her very close knit family. We feel their hope, their dreams, their pain.  And then we witness their adjustment, and those moments of confusion, elation, disbelief, sadness, and ultimately, some semblance of acceptance.  It is impossible not to root for these people and their families in the US, for their homelands and their new homes, for the families left behind.  Perhaps the mother of one of the Dominican ball players sums it up best when speaking about the challenges that her son faces:  “Poor people’s dreams are very deep things.”

This film is an outstanding educational tool that is supported by an excellent (and free) series guide and activity book.  The educator’s guide states that it is appropriate for 7th – 12th grades;  I personally think it will be an excellent tool for college level students also.  It is a film that allows us to talk about immigrants more deeply.  Now they have names.  We know their stories.  We see where they came from, what they had to leave (by choice or otherwise) and what limitations there are on their dreams in the US.  Students and teachers can spend hours discussing these films, given solid guidance by the tools provided on the PBS website.

The film also provides plenty of examples for the study of intercultural communication across cultures.  The toolkit also provides lesson plans for ESL students.

Here is the film, if you’d like to purchase it: