Twin Cities residents share challenges in “Immigrant Stories Revealed”

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Perhaps your grandpa had to sift through five feet of snow on his long walk to school. That may have been challenging, but it seems paltry in comparison to the obstacles faced by immigrants now living in Twin Cities. The documentary, Immigrant Stories Revealed, gives the public a chance to get to know five immigrants with compelling histories. In the interviews, immigrants and refugees share bits and pieces of their new life in the United States, and of their past in Bosnia, Laos, and Mexico.

Airs on Sunday, April 27th at 7:00 pm ON TPT 17 (thanks to person who posted the correction below)

The experiences that pushed these immigrants out of their countries were harsh. Mike Pao Lee, for example, escaped Laos and spent at least five years in refugee camps in Thailand, where he lived with a constant eye to survival. Since the camps’ food rations were not enough to get by on, he had to sneak out to forage for food in the jungle.

The highlighted stories span fifty years, and adjusting to life in the Upper Midwest was daunting for the immigrants no matter the era. Rhonda Whitenack now lives in St. Paul but was raised in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin where her parents came from Mexico in the 1940s. Whitenack recalls the sting of landlords who would not rent to her family. Another participant, Joe Lamer, came to Minnesota from Bosnia after escaping Tito’s regime. He went to work on the railroads here but faced difficult work conditions.

If the narratives give the audience a profound sense of hardship, they also reveal the storytellers’ tremendous resilience. Laddavanh Insixiengmay, a refugee from Laos, speaks about her respect for a mother who disguised the reality of living in a refugee camp, despite the “hopelessness and smell of death.” Her mother continued to weave handicrafts despite the conditions in the refugee camp, and continued to do so when she reached Minnesota. She ultimately received an award from President Bill Clinton for her work.

Belma Demirovic also beat the odds when she left Bosnia at the age of seventeen. At the preview screening, held at Neighborhood House in St. Paul, Demirovic spoke to the audience about the pressure of translating and playing the role of the adult in an immigrant family. “Now that my parents know what’s going on I can finally go back to being a kid, only I’m too old to be a kid,” she said. This forced adulthood is evident in Demirovic’s articulate story telling, which exudes calm and a sense of strength.

The documentary is homegrown, with participation from the Advocates for Human Rights, Intermedia Arts, League of Women Voters, Neighborhood House, and Side By Side Associates. A DVD of the documentary, as well as a companion teaching guide, are available for sale through TPT.