Seeking to celebrate UC Davis’ diverse student body, the Cross Cultural Center is developing a narrative documentary of students’ origins.
“UC Davis Immigrants Tale” spawned from the mind of Johnathen Duran, a Chicana/o studies intern at the CCC, as he talked to a friend about her family’s experience emigrating from Nicaragua to the United States, the deportation that followed and their subsequent immigration back to the U.S.
After hearing more stories like his friend’s, Duran realized that students needed to be aware of where their peers came from.
“People tend to feel isolated, displaced and marginalized because of their immigration struggles, even though it’s common,” he said. “But it’s important to recognize the solidarity we all have with one another as humans.”
Lidia Tilahun, a junior neurobiology, physiology and behavior major as well as project organizer, claimed the goal of the documentary is simple.
“[We must] promote awareness about Americans who immigrated to the U.S.,” she said. “People will be able to hear the feelings behind the experiences of leaving one’s [native land] and creating a new home in a foreign country.”
Tilahun, whose family emigrated from Ethiopia, felt that people should not only understand but also admire the rich cultures that immigrants bring to America’s individualistic society.
“Many Americans have not sat and listened to stories [from] a variety of immigrants,” she said. “Their opinions are limited to [what they hear] from the media and thus their political decisions are narrowed to that. [Making a] more personal connection with immigration aids in understanding the lives of people who they are impacting.”
The project’s title plays on the name of the popular animated movie “An American Tale,” whose story centers on a family of Russian mice who immigrate to the United States and subsequently attempt to assimilate into American culture.
Horace Liang, a sophomore wildlife, fish and conservation biology major, described his family’s immigration tale as they came to the U.S. from northern China.
“Like most families, my family came here because America is supposed to be the land of opportunity,” he said. “[But when] my mom got here, she couldn’t go to school and had to work in a sweatshop to support her siblings. And then my dad had to work a variety of jobs, once as an electrician, then as an assistant chef at a restaurant in Puerto Rico and now as a carpenter.”
Liang, a first-generation college student, also spoke of the role assimilation played in his experience.
“You come here and immerse yourself in American culture,” Liang said. “But you were still born in China, you are native to China, it’s part of what makes you who you are. If you neglect it, then you throw away your past. If people retain their culture and share it proudly with others, then maybe our world wouldn’t be such a complete mess.”
The project is scheduled to begin with recording participants’ interviews sometime within the next week. Interviewees will share their 10-minute story along with any meaningful pictures, posters or flags.
“The truth of this is unless you’re native to the land, then you’re from somewhere else,” Duran said. “So whether you’re first, second or 20th generation, we want to know how you got here. [It’s all part of] becoming reconnected and moving toward a global citizenry.”
Students interested in sharing their immigrant’s tale should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
KYLE SPORLEDER can be reached at email@example.com.