On November 18 2015, a screening of the movie ELLIS, an immigrant short film by JR narrated by Robert De Niro, was shown at the C3 Center. The ELLIS clip is a testimonial for all immigrants who passed through ELLIS Island on their way to becoming Americans. The film is a monumental period piece that gives ode to the resilience and vigor demonstrated by a people determined to become Americans at all costs. Immigrants from all across Europe came in through Ellis Island. They struggled with disease, Visa denial, poverty, and prejudice. Through Ellis Island they were either granted access to their dreams, they were quarantined, or they were sent home.
The film started with Robert De Niro reflecting on his personal experiences as an immigrant. He felt the intense energy that lingered in the shuttered building of ELLIS Island Immigrant Hospital. Although this place hosted a vast numbers of immigrants from every corner of the world, the statue of liberty held a special common meaning for all, a beacon of hope. The statue of liberty was visible from the hospital windows which meant it was the final frontier for the immigrants. For some, they were successfully approved to live in the States while others experience a sort of purgatory lifestyle at the hospital. Despite every immigrant’s personal endeavors assimilating into our society, the film underlines the common theme of hope for all immigrants.
After the ELLIS movie, Thuy and I shared our unique experiences as immigrants then facilitated a discussion about immigration and diversity in Woonsocket with those in attendance.
My family had a petition to come to the United States but lacked the method of flight transportation. At the time, I was only two years old resulting in my mother give me up to a trusted family, so that I would not have to experience the harsh conditions they experienced. Consequently, my family were forced to travel on foot and rode on unfamiliar buses to stay in Texas. I reunited with my mother and sister in Texas, where they had a brief period of employment to furnish the necessary wages to buy a car. Once they had a car, they drove from Texas to Rhode Island. This storytelling inspired our youth to tell their own stories. Although our stories were different, Thuy and I shared a BCG vaccination mark that leaves a permanent scar which we call the “international mark”. Surprisingly, one the attendees shared this same mark! We had learned that students’ families originated from Africa, Europe, and throughout South America. We also had learned that some students were Muslim, Catholic, and Christian. They enjoyed telling us about customs they brought from their country.
While our collective experiences varied, all those viewing ELLIS at the C3 Center shared a common trait – resiliency.