Reflection: The Immigrant Experience through Film


I recently watched two films, The Immigrant and America America, that show how immigrants experience the process of migration differently than what they were expecting.

I noticed that there are undertones of determination and anguish, hope that America will be the answer to their problems and the America they had been told about. Yet it isn’t long that they realize the heartbreak of being separated from loved ones as in the case of 2013 film ‘The Immigrant’ as well as sexism and racism. They are treated as second class citizens in a country meant to be a beacon for dreamers everywhere.

Tension lies between the idea and reality of America. Sometimes the immigrant finds that America isn’t as open to newcomers as they thought and they soon find tension between cultures due to racism or even sexism. Ewa and her sister escaped Poland due to war but found situations just as horrifying. Such as having men take advantage of their situation, being separated, being mistreated and having wages withheld. For Stavros in America America he had to go against family wishes and endure labor-intensive jobs just to be able to keep his dream of America.

There are many struggles immigrants must be willing to face and eventually overcome both at home, while migrating and residing in the USA. Historical events also impact experiences as well as the amount of preparation they had before the journey, though with the two movies I watched they are willing to face poverty, injustices, racism and in the case of Ewa sexism and prostitution. Prostitution is not a natural trade for Ewa, putting it lightly, but it’s what she had to do in order to save her sister from Ellis island and to all together stay in America. She had to endure the humiliation and sometimes anxiety of having to rely on a male stranger to simply not be deported.

In both movies the main characters experienced violence at some point before migrating, either the beheading of their parents or community massacres, which motivates them to leave their home country. Stavros also endures hunger, poverty, and discomfort in order to keep his dream of going to America. Then once in America he must work hard and save funds to later help his family join him in America. I feel that both of these examples of struggles to stay in America are quite common.

A lot of families send their young and able-bodied to pave the way, that is what my family did in the 80’s. They sent over my grandma’s brothers to first work on cruise ships and then less dangerous jobs on land. They sent money every month to support the family still in the Philippines while saving money to bring some over. When it was time for my grandma and my mom to come to America they continued to save and send money. We still have family in Manila, so the cycle keeps going with the first generation American born. This is something I thought about while watching the films, though during The Immigrant I imagined that during this time period my grandma and mom’s experience would be closer to the 1994 drama Picture Bride – a unique immigrant experience of its own as well.

In the films I noticed several American Dream concepts. Success, freedom from violence in the home country, and liberation to start over. In The Immigrant Ewa wanted to start a new life with her sister and their aunt after seeing their parents beheaded in Poland. Though upon coming to America her sister falls ill and due to sexism Ewa finds herself an outcast. In order to earn a living she falls into the hands of a man who uses her disadvantages to pimp her.

I believe that immigration is the greatest manifestation of the American Dream, what experience involves more heart, courage and hard work than that?


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