Year Released: 2004
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 117 minutes
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Even though Israel Nwidor does not know Ricardo Rodriguez or Jose Garcia, they are briefly connected in part 2 of “The New Americans” by a dreaded word: racism. In part 1, Israel was told by a higher-up Ogoni tribe member to be prepared to work in America, to look forward to these new experiences. What the tribe member could not have foreseen was the presence of racism in our country. Israel’s gotten the job he told us he was training for, working at a metal-pressing factory. The long hours are hard on him, and unfortunately, he can’t socialize very well with his co-workers. But his co-workers are not what causes this racism, but rather the police. Israel gets a ride home occasionally from a co-worker who’s a refugee from Vietnam. One night, four squad cars stopped both of them and one of the police officers used foul language against Israel and this other guy and Israel was shocked that something like this could happen in America. It does, and it also happens to Ricardo and Jose.
The two baseball players from the Dominican Republic are on their way to Great Falls, Montana to live there for some time and play minor league baseball on their way to hopefully ending up in the majors. They find residence by way of host parents, people who agree to take in these baseball players. Olie and Marie Stimac are the couple that takes in Ricardo and Jose and they are well aware of the ground rules that are set by the Dodgers, regarding these boys. First, they need to be back two hours after each game. No girls, no parties, nothing like that. However, trouble arises when a fellow teammate is charged with sexual assault with a deadly weapon, in this case a butcher’s knife. It’s not known how much the ground rules have been changed, but bigger problems for the boys are in the form of fellow teammates blaming them for what happened, claiming that they ruined it for everyone else. Plus, this is a small town, overly white, and what appears in the news about that, spreads faster than winos to the local liquor store. Ricardo, who seemed to enjoy the time he spent at the local church, prefers to stay away from that place now, as people tend to look at him in a different light. It’s not a happy time at that moment.
What becomes remarkable as time flies by during this documentary is how skillfully all these stories are told. The editing of this documentary is a risky high-wire act because not only are the stories in part 1 continued, but a new story is presented, that of Pedro Flores, who works in a meatpacking plant in rural Kansas. Flores is a Mexican, who also has a family 1200 miles away at a small ranch in Mexico. Unfortunately, he is only able to go home for 15 days every 6 months and this is hard on his wife, Ventura, as well as his five daughters and one son. He strives to find sponsorship that allows him to obtain visas for his entire family so that they may come live with him and so that this emotional strife ceases to be. It’s hard enough on him, but his eldest daughter Nora hates facing the times that he must leave, because it is incredibly hard on her as well. He is a courageous man for taking on this gargantuan that puts emotions to their absolute limit.
Also in part 2, there is a switch-around. In part 1, Israel and his wife Ngozi got the majority of the attention in the Nigerian story. This time, they are shown in brief spurts, but most of the time of that story goes to Barine Wiwa-Lawani, who we’ve met in part 1, but didn’t get to know too well. Barine became well known because of her brother, Ken Saro-Wiwa, who led an activist group called MOSOP, which strived to tell the Nigerian military government a thing or two about what they were doing to the Ogoni’s lands. The government had allowed Shell Oil to drill on the Ogoni lands, and a lot was lost because of it. Unfortunately, the activism took a violent turn when the government got out the big guns and Ken was hung because of his actions. Villages were also razed, and Barine lost the restaurants and cooking school that she owned. There was no choice but to head to the refugee camp, which is where we find her in part 1. In part 2, more is known about her. Barine works as a cook’s assistant and it reflects much about other immigrants in what they had accomplished in other countries does not matter here. Her major goal is to own and operate a restaurant like she did in Nigeria. However, her story also presents a problem evident in that of Israel and Ngozi’s life in America. Her children, Ninni and Zina Lawani, are shown at high school, attending classes and such and it’s shown how they are affected in being here. With Pedro Flores’ story, there’s no choice but to focus on his children, as they are an intricate part of his life.
Israel and Ngozi have children as well, but it’s as if they are pushed by the wayside. We get a brief look at them in part 1, and in a video letter sent to Israel and Nwidor’s families, they are seen as well. How has this journey affected them? What schools are they attending, if any? Are they getting along well in their classes? I don’t mind details being left out such as rule changes after the attempted sexual assault that casts a pall over Ricardo and Jose’s story, but these children should have had some on-screen time as well. The only time one of Israel and Nwidor’s children get some focus is when it’s found out that Ngozi is pregnant with another child, their first in the U.S. That’s the only slight disappointment to an otherwise affecting documentary.
So as not to leave anyone else out, Hatem and Naima have their time as well with wedding preparations, the wedding itself, and married life. Naima has trouble job-hunting because of her language limitations. She has not learned English yet and is trying to, though she prefers Arabic. Hatem has found work that he believes in, which is running the youth center at an Arab-American Action Network, basically some sort of major community center for people of that type to come together.
The meticulous care throughout both parts is noticeable. The filmmakers involved in this admirable project spent time with these subjects since 1997, even before they considered making this life-changing journey. People today seem to think of immigrants as those coming from Mexico, Cuba, and even parts of the Carribean. “The New Americans” strives and succeeds in showing that immigration is not only a daily occurrence, but is one in which people from so many other countries are involved. Their reasons to travel to our part of the world differ, but ultimately, they are part of what makes this country so unique in that there are so many different races and lifestyles dotting every single state. Many have and will try to fight that, but it’s one reason to be proud of the lands we Americans inhabit.
Posted on March 18, 2004 in Reviews by Rory L. Aronsky
If you liked this article then you may also like the following Film Threat articles:
- THE NEW AMERICANS – PART 1
- THE NEW AMERICANS – PART 3
- HARRISON MONTGOMERY
- EYES WIDE OPEN
- GARIFUNA IN PERIL
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