(Editor’s Note: Some students in the International Media program at American University are now researching their final capstone projects. These projects will take the form of either scholarly papers, or professional and creative projects. We are posting proposals and updates on these projects to demonstrate their progress.)
by Alison Ring
Special to Sutradhar’s Market
As part of the research for my project, I am going to review existing media coverage about refugees in the U.S., read several books that have been written about the experiences of this population, and watch a number of documentary films that portray the lives of refugees living in the United States. I want to find out why there is so little attention paid to this population, their reasons for coming to the U.S., and their struggles and successes upon arrival.
I have started reading Mary Pipher’s The Middle of Everywhere, a collection of stories about refugees from various countries from all over the world who now live in Nebraska. I am also reading several other similar books, including Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference by Warren St. John, which documents the results of what the publisher calls an “impromptu social experiment” in a small town on the outskirts of Atlanta. In the book, a soccer team made up of young refugee boys from the Congo, Burundi, Sudan, Liberia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, struggle to adjust to life in a new country and while trying to win over the locals. Also on my list is Human Cargo: A Journey Among Refugees by Caroline Moorehead, a human rights journalist and refugee aid worker, who traveled the world to talk with refugees around the globe, including Mexican migrants waiting to cross the border into the United States. She also takes a look at the policies of aid organizations and what Publisher’s Weekly calls the “callousness” of Western governments.
Through one-on-one interviews with several refugees living in the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, it is my goal to produce a short documentary film about the lives of refugees living the United States. I would like to tell the stories of where they came from, why they came here, how they got here, what they did in their home country, where they work (if at all) now, their greatest source of pride, and their biggest challenges along the way.
Perspective, Originality, and Conceptual Foundation
While there are many government agencies, non-profits, international aid groups, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working to raise awareness about the plight of refugees around the world, and funds to help these individuals, the majority of their efforts focus on refugees in other countries, not those who have been relocated to the United States. Although many people believe that the American Dream is still possible, and it may be easier for refugees in the U.S. to make a better life for themselves, I would argue that they should not be forgotten – nor should they be placed in the same category as immigrants, who are often faced with their own unfair discrimination and prejudice.
There are several organizations, including UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – the U.N. Refugee Agency), Refugees International, and the International Rescue Committee (IRC), that have produced short pieces featuring the stories of refugees from a first-person perspective. But much of their focus is on refugees who reside in countries around the world, not within the United States. The IRC has created a series of podcasts called Bringing Refugees to America, but some are interviews with individuals that are poorly edited and others show the work of IRC staff at events; there is no real cohesion to the series. My video project will focus on several people instead of just one, and will make use of footage beyond interviews to help tell the story, not just the individual sitting, talking and telling the story.