Immigrants speak out in film documentary

WORTHINGTON -- More than a year after the idea was conceived, the Nobles County Integration Collaborative (NCIC) premiered its documentary "Voices of Immigrants" Sunday afternoon at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

WORTHINGTON -- More than a year after the idea was conceived, the Nobles County Integration Collaborative (NCIC) premiered its documentary "Voices of Immigrants" Sunday afternoon at Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

"The idea was sparked over a year ago during an intergenerational meeting," project coordinator Heidi Fransen told the audience. "People from different backgrounds came together to explore their experiences and share stories, and many did not want the stories to end."

Thirty-two immigrants from 16 countries participated in interviews -- all of them with ties to Nobles County. By the time the interviews were over, there were more than 60 hours of tape that needed to be cut to a 30 minute documentary.

Although the stories were all different, many of the immigrants shared common experiences.

Documentarian James Gambone said he hoped the movie would do a number of things, including be shown on public television, so others could see the impact immigrants have on a community, and help create a high school curriculum that would help young people talk about the issues.


Josh Laffen was one of the project's two videographers and said he spent every day after school for more than a month videotaping interviews for at least two hours a day.

"It was really hard and took a lot of time, but it was definitely worth it," he said. "But it was really a handful."

NCIC Coordinator Sharon Johnson said she hoped the documentary would be a start across the nation in bringing about healing conversations with one another.

The documentary begins with stark black and white letters that mention the Swift & Co. raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that happened in December. It is noted that the interviews for the film took place before the raids.

Immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Vietnam, Laos, Kenya, the Netherlands and more discuss their immigration stories, their experiences in the United States and what they have learned.

"There are a lot of reasons for immigration," Jan Larson said during the film, citing economics, religion and more. "The land of the United States was full of opportunities."

Sivilay Lasichan said his family came to the United States because his father's friends told him it was paradise.

Others talked about the hardships in their countries -- no food, no jobs, no money. They spoke of the fear they faced when one person would leave for the United States while others stayed behind, not knowing if their loved one had made it safely.


Teresa Rodriguez had to try three times before making it into the country from Mexico.

"The first time, we got caught in a small border town by immigration," she said, explaining how the immigration officers called her garbage and told her she was less important than a bug. "I will never forget that."

Fabio Lopez Sebastian spoke of the civil wars in his homeland of Guatemala -- of the inhumane treatment from the military and the guerrillas.

"They would kill and torture innocent people," he said. "I came to the U.S. looking for liberty and freedom."

The immigrants talk about how they are sometimes embarrassed by the actions of their own people, how hard it is to have people see them as the enemy, and how they would like to be treated.

"They should see with optimism the Latin influence here," said Hermanio Nunez Lopez. "Those that question immigration should remember where they came from."

Anoop Arte came to the United States from India and said the things he knew about American culture came from television.

"Sometimes I tell people I expected 'Beavis and Butthead,'" he laughed.


Each person interviewed was asked what they have learned since they came to this country.

"I have learned not to give up."

"I have learned every person can adapt."

"I learned I have it in me to keep going."

"You are classified here," one man said. "I have more potential as a person than as a race."

Many of the people in the film said their hearts are still in their home countries, with some saying they would be back in their own countries if they could.

"You suffer a lot in this country," one woman said, talking about how hard it was to leave family and to live in a place where there is so much rejection.

After the premier, the interviewees and audience members gathered to discuss immigration issues and the documentary.


"It was weird to see myself," said Thonsay Chantharath. "I was so big, and I think I sound different."

Chantharath thought the movie was well done, but found it interesting the information about the ICE raids was included.

"I think we may not have gotten people to participate," she said, referring to what she thought would have happened if the interviews were conducted after ICE came to Worthington. "They would have been too scared."

Fifteen-year-old Fernando Nunez enjoyed seeing his mother's part in the movie.

"It was really good," he added. "It was nice to see all the different people."

Alexy Nunez said she was happy to participate and wasn't nervous about being interviewed, but suffered serious bouts of nervousness the evening before the premier.

She agreed to the interview because she wanted to explain how the immigrants had suffered in their countries.

"We want to come here and have good lives, good schools, good jobs," she said.


She also wants people to know that not all Hispanic people are "robbers, or bad people, or lazy."

"We are hard workers," she added. "We can keep jobs, raise our families and come here legally with papers."

Johnson said there will be copies of the documentary at the NCIC available to check out, or they can be purchased from the NCIC at cost.

"We're also giving one to each of the immigrants and to each integration collaborative in Minnesota," she added.

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