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Dec 1, 2010 12:01 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

East End Advocacy Group's DVDs Focus On Immigrants' Challenges

Dec 1, 2010 12:01 PM

A young woman hailing from Colombia looks toward a camera and offers a grim glimpse of what it is like to live as an undocumented immigrant in the United States: “You live in the shadows,” she begins. “You have no identity. You’re nobody. You’re not ... it’s like you’re not even here. Who would want to live in that situation? Who would want to live as if they’re hiding all the time?”

Her brief monologue—rhetorical questions and all—is one of several snippets of immigrant experiences captured in two new DVDs created by Neighbors in Support of Immigrants, or NISI, an East End organization whose mission is to support the “just and humane treatment” of immigrants. The Colombian woman is identified only as a college graduate who is now a documented citizen.

The similarly titled DVDs are short. One, “Sharing the American Dream: Immigrants on the East End of Long Island,” is just shy of nine minutes. The other, “Sharing the American Dream: Our Immigrant Neighbors on the East End of Long Island,” is almost six and a half minutes. But, one by one, immigrants from Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Jamaica, Germany and Ecuador offer commentary: speaking of perseverance to make it in a new land and learn English, expressing pride that they pay their taxes.

Men and women, documented and undocumented, from all walks of life and many nations, are interviewed. Some are recognizable figures locally.

The goals, explained NISI Chairwoman Sylvia Baruch, are to provide an educational element to the group’s traditional advocacy role, to dispel the perception that immigrants do not want to assimilate, and also to display the diversity of immigrants and their optimism about living in America. It is designed to influence the debate on immigration reform and encourage the East End community to be more welcoming to immigrants.

On Friday, the public will have an opportunity to attend a screening at 7 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike in Bridgehampton. Early last month, NISI offered a public screening at the Hampton Bays Senior Center.

NISI often holds pro-immigration rallies and has signed letters of support for immigration reform, such as the Dream Act, a bill that would help pave the way for the legalization of young immigrants.

“Too often, when people talk about immigration, they talk about day laborers,” said Ms. Baruch, a Hampton Bays resident. “It’s much more complicated than that,” she added, touching on the troubles encountered by children of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States at a young age and are now in limbo.

NISI, which is about two years old and boasts 100 volunteer members, would like to invite civic organizations, schools, churches, Rotary clubs and other groups to view the films and discuss the broader issues, Ms. Baruch said. While the longer DVD is purely interviews, the shorter one includes interviews interspersed with statistics, such as one attributed to the Fiscal Policy Institute, an independent research organization in New York, that states fewer than 1 percent of immigrants on Long Island are day laborers.

A November 2010 report titled “The Changing Profile of Long Island’s Economy” is one source the group said it relies on heavily. Its findings, for example, indicate that the expanding immigrant population on Long Island has contributed significantly to the regional economy, with most holding white-collar jobs. Also, contrary to a widespread perception, it also states that the growing immigrant workforce has displaced few American-born workers.

Grania Brolin, the producer of the DVDs, said she would like people she called “flag-wavers” to see the DVDs. Anticipating possible protests, NISI had asked Southampton Town Police to have a presence during the screening in Hampton Bays, but was pleasantly surprised that they were not needed.

Ms. Brolin, a Water Mill resident and NISI member, said that even though she grew up with foreigners and her parents came from abroad, she had not always thought seriously about the adversity immigrants must face when leaving one country to settle in another. The DVDs are intended to shed a light on this, she said.

“I’m very impressed by people’s courage,” Ms. Brolin added.

The DVDs grew out of an oral history project titled “Profiles in Cultures.” Funding came largely from the East Hampton Historical Society, a grant from the Vidda Foundation and the Suffolk County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation. NISI used the LTV facility in East Hampton to shoot the interviews.

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Immigration is fine as long as it's legal. If you hop a fence or crawl thru a tunnel you are breaking the law.
By Babyboo (293), Hampton Bays on Dec 2, 10 12:47 PM
Great portraits by Ms. Brown!
By PBR (4956), Southampton on Dec 2, 10 2:58 PM