“Yesterday The Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. held a showing of the film “Welcome to Shelbyville” followed by a panel discussion on immigration in the United States. LIRS staff that attended the event was heartened to see the large turn out of people interested in immigration and refugee issues, even though it meant we had to watch the film from auxiliary seating! The documentary tells the story of a small town in Tennessee that has seen a swift influx of immigrants over the past 20 years. Shelbyville is representative of what are being called ‘new immigrant destinations,’ cities or towns that historically have not hosted immigrants or refugees and now have to figure out how to build a community together.
“Welcome to Shelbyville” illustrates the anxiety and fracture caused by rapid immigration, but it also sheds light on the very real possibilities for unity and understanding. The film chronicles the interactions of locals, Hispanic immigrants and Somali refugees in a variety of contexts, from a local church basement to stadium seating at a rodeo. Perhaps one of the most poignant scenes of the film was a dinner party hosted by a Somali refugee, which illuminated the complexity of navigating integration. A guest and covered hostess went from having a hesitant conversation about the appropriateness of bare arms, to dancing in the kitchen, to a genuine exchange of fears on both sides of the cultural divide: the guest nervous about the possibility of terrorism in her home town and the hostess nervous about the perceptions of the refugee community disseminated by the local media. But it was precisely these types of raw exchanges, awkward and tense as they were, that lead to the most growth and genuine understanding.
LIRS applauds the film’s message of building communities together. The work of Shelbyville residents, some of whom were recent migrants, to assist the refugee population was inspirational.” by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service on Friday, September 17, 2010 at 3:00pm
“I am impressed by your film and by the discussion it evoked in the audience. I look forward to further action here in Corvallis as a result. Our event with your film did highlight one looming elephant in our community–we had no Hispanics in the audience and we were not able to find any Latino to be on the panel. You showed Ms Lucy and the Garcia family as prominent leaders in bridging the cultural gap, as they possessed understanding of the strong emotional strains on immigrants and refugees. We have a lot of work to do on that front. I personally want to build connections to that large hidden community in our midst and use your video again in the spring to indicate what an important role they could have. We have severe immigration issues here as it is easy in the ‘established’ community to assume most every Hispanic is an undocumented farm worker.”
-Elnora Harcombe, member of Raging Grannies, an international organization that uses song and humor to increase awareness of social issues, Corvallis OR
“I thought it was very good… I think they’re going to see a caring community dealing with issues that are common throughout the country.”
– Ed Craig, former city manager of Shelbyville, TN
“The integration of immigrants in our community is key and it happens with the help of people such as Ms. Luci in the film…These folks have helped immigrant students learn how to drive, fill out job applications and how to use the bus system. Building relationships is what this is all about.”
– Denise Hoffman, Literary Center of Mesa County Libraries, Colorado
“There is a multiplicity of issues that the film brings up. There is a rich subtext of race in America, Islama-phobia, media hype, secondary migration, historical racism, change in general, economic dynamics and so on…The overall sentiment was that it was a really great way to spend an hour and that it generated a lot of introspection, captured some critical issues and is a film that although challenging, leaves folks with a sense of hope.”
“In one of the most eye-opening scenes, a cross-section of ethnicities show up at a Somali woman’s home to share in a Somali meal. Laughter, conversation, dancing — and baby steps of mutual understanding — unfold in the kitchen and the living room. LIkewise, the lecture room in Gunter Hall became a de-facto caucus on multiculturalism when the lights came up and the hosts – Realizing Our Community, a local nonprofit that promotes diversity, and the Denver-based Spring Institute for Intercultural Learning — moderated a discussion about the film and its themes. An older white man said this about what’s happening in Greeley-ville: ‘I don’t think people are coming here to take over — they’re bringing new energy into the place.”
“On Monday night, in the movie and in the conversation that followed, people were both saying tough things and listening to each other. I came away feeling inspired and optimistic about the ability of people coming together to break down the barriers that distance us, and thinking that if we could all watch this movie between now and the end of the year, how 2011 might be different.”
“Many people who watched the film said they walked away with a greater understanding of the Somali culture. That seems to be the purpose of the film: to educate and eventually create community not just in Shelbyville, but in similar communities across Middle Tennessee and even across America.
“Even among an audience predisposed toward cross-cultural thinking, much more went unsaid than was said, both because of time constraints and a persistent feeling of uncertainty, doubt and anxiety that stands like a wall between the cultres. The peopl ein that room, however, gave it their best shot and, I like to think, came away with a better understanding of the work to be done, and the difficulty of that work.”
“I was very impressed by the balance in the film. By the fact that they were very very pointedly brought out in the real difficulties people have and yet the whole upbeat tone of the film…instead of crying in your beer what to do about things.”
— from group discussion moderated by KETC Channel 9 and Executive Producer Jim Kirchher, St. Louis MO