TIFF ’08, Continued

I will be finishing up my film festival posts here in the near future, but will probably have to do them one at a time. Home again, I’m stretched thin by all the “home” responsibilities — family, work, house, yard, politics, etc. So here goes for today:

Dernier Maquis — French

The basic story of this film and the way it was put together was very good. Muslim immigrants, African and middle eastern, working at a pallet construction business who are dealing with a French Muslim boss who they don’t trust and the selection of an imam for their new mosque (which, incidentally, the boss built for them). I felt very “industrial” all the way through the film, no relief except one brief excursion into nature. Other than that very short escape on the canal, I felt somewhat imprisoned in the setting– mountains of pallets, the pit of the mechanic shop and the starkly functional new mosque. Anxiety with and the underlying distrust of the boss and frustration over the selection of the imam build and boil over as the individuals seek a voice. Everyone, no matter who they are or what situation they are in, needs to be heard and this film, to me, portrays that need.

This is not a pleasant entertainment film. It is a hard, harsh, abusive film. It is a film that shows the frustration of not only immigrants (regardless of their legal status) but of all human beings when their perception is that they are not being heard. In my opinion, it shows what can happen anywhere when people are not only NOT heard, but treated as though they don’t even have a voice with which to speak.


What are They Really Saying?

This is an email I received recently:

“The truth hurts…”

This is supposed to be a joke…but it’s too true to be funny!!!


A Somali arrives in Minneapolis as a new immigrant to the United States.
He stops the first person he sees walking down the street and says, “Thank you, Mr. American, for letting me in this country, giving me housing, food stamps, free medical care, and free education!”

The passerby says, “You are mistaken. I am Mexican.”

The man goes on and encounters another passerby. “Thank you for having such a beautiful country here in America!” The person says, “I not American; I Vietnamese.”

The new arrival walks further, and the next person he sees he stops, shakes his hand and says, “Thank you for the wonderful America!”
That person puts up his hand and says, “I am from Middle East; I am not American!”

He finally sees a nice lady and asks, “Are you an American?”
She says, “No, I am from Africa!”

Puzzled, he asks her, “Where are all the Americans?”

The African lady checks her watch and says…”Probably at work.”

We all get this kind of message, just forwarded with little thought. It was probably intended to be, as it says, “a joke…” but the truth that I saw in it was definitely not funny and not in the way that either the writer or the sender(s) meant. Immigration is a “hot” problem right now that will not be easily solved. It will require serious compassion, compromise and character. My family discussed the email and then my son, Jonathan, who speaks here for all of us, wrote the following response. Note: He refers to “Mormonism” because we and the person who sent the original are Mormon. I also edited the final sentence. Jonathan’s original comment was essentially ‘don’t send us any more of this crap!’

Response to
“The truth hurts…”:

I recently read an email entitled ‘the truth hurts…’ that was sent to my mom. The comment made preceding the actual message read: ‘This is supposed to be a joke…but it’s too true to be funny!!!’ A joke? I did not find myself laughing, but then I guess it’s too true to be funny, right? But then I thought of my next-door neighbor from Tonga who often works more than forty hours a week running his own cement business. Then across the street to my neighbors from Thailand who also spend much of the day running their own Thai restaurant. Down the road from them are a husband and wife from Mexico who also run their own restaurant. I think of co-workers of mine at the library who come from Brazil, El Salvador, Jordan, and Latvia; all of them putting in the same number of hours as I do. Now, with all these people I was thinking of I couldn’t see the truth in this email.

Perhaps the issue is not so much with working or not working. Perhaps it has more to do with people of color (Somali, Mexican, Middle East -like it’s just one big country-, Vietnamese, and African – again, one big country). Maybe it is that they are not Americans? They are not Americans, but immigrants; nothing more than free-loaders, as implied by the Somali’s initial comments. Or is it perhaps a combination of all of the above? It seems to me that what this email is doing is taking shots at all the above. Meaning: if you are not white and American, you do not work, but rather only leech off white Americans.

If this is meant as a joke, it is a racist joke. If it is meant to be a true statement, then it is a racist statement. It presumes that Americans have the corner on hard work. It presumes that foreign people of color cannot speak English properly, do not work, and have no desire to work. It puts white America on a superior level to non-white foreigners, especially those who immigrate to America. It embodies Americanism rather than Mormonism. Such an email has no place in our society or our religion, because neither America nor Christianity should support such racist thinking. We should have by now moved beyond such thought, having learned that such ignorant and hasty generalizations only promote misunderstanding, intolerance and cruelty.

This email made me feel sad indeed about what we, as Americans regardless of our religion, are becoming.