Step Out of the House of Mirrors

By Kary Vannice

Almost every immigration issue since the beginning of time is deeply rooted in an “us vs. them” mindset. It stems from a deeply territorial view of the world that delineates “my side” from “your side” based on arbitrary and ever-changing lines on a map. And is exacerbated by our tendency to identify someone as “other” based on not-so-arbitrary differences like skin color, language, culture, and religious beliefs. 

Immigration issues get top billing in the news these days. In the world we live in, where you get your news tends to shape your world view. However, most news outlets are more in the business of telling you what you want to hear by showing you a version of the truth than reporting on the whole truth and nothing but the truth. 

And, thanks to cyber tracking, your personal preferences are instantaneously fed back to you in the form of targeted ads, tailored news reports, and curated videos that reinforce your personal point of view, making it seem like the whole world shares your political views, religious beliefs – and they even look very similar to you, too! 

All of this contributes to and feeds the “us vs. them” mentality. When the world around us is constantly reflecting us back to us, it’s hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand the point of view of the “other.”  

This is why the immigration issue is getting more divisive. We spend less and less time out in the real world looking at what is going on around us to define our world view. We are much more likely to have our point of view defined by looking at our computer screen, TV screen, or social media feed. And while it may appear that those things exist outside of us, they do not. Almost all media streaming from your personal screen is based on your internet search history, the things you “like” on social media, and the virtual community you interact with. 

It’s like trying to establish your world view from inside a house of mirrors. What you see may appear to be all different shapes and sizes, but ultimately, it’s still just a reflection of you. And, because of this, we start to lose touch with the experiences of the “other.”

Being able to see the world from another’s point of view is called empathy, and it is something that is sorely lacking in our modern society, especially when it comes to the issue of immigration. Too many people are dismissing the experience and point of view of immigrants because they refuse to see the issue from another point of view. 

Unless you’ve actually moved to another country in hopes of creating a better life or to escape persecution in your home country, there are few ways to understand what it means to be an immigrant. 

Fortunately, the one thing that’s been subtly reinforcing your personal point of view can be used to see the world through the eyes of an immigrant and hear his or her story:  your screen. Movies and documentaries made for the silver screen are a great way immerse yourself in the life of someone else and see the world from that person’s point of view.

Filmmakers from every region of the world have taken on the task of telling the immigrant’s tale, from heart-warming rom-coms to gut-wrenching live-action documentaries. No matter how you prefer your entertainment, there is an opportunity to step into the shoes of a foreigner in a foreign land and live life from that other person’s perspective. For a few hours, you get intimate access to their thoughts, feelings, and personal point of view, which may just serve to change yours.

The following are some great films* to start with.

Big Screen Drama: 

Icebox (2016, USA) – Óscar, a 12-year-old Honduran boy who is forced to flee his home and seek asylum in the United States, finds himself trapped inside the U.S. immigration system. 

Gran Torino (2008, USA) – Retired auto worker and Korean War vet Walt, played by Clint Eastwood, fills the emptiness in his life with beer and home repair, despising the many Asian, Latino and black families in his neighborhood. However, he becomes a reluctant hero when he stands up to the gangbangers who tried to force an Asian teen to steal his treasured car. An unlikely friendship develops between Walt and the teen, as he learns he has more in common with his neighbors than he thought. 

Maria Full of Grace (2004, Colombia/USA) – Seventeen-year-old Colombian Maria is desperate: pregnant and with a large family to care for, she’s forced to leave a demanding job after an altercation with her boss. Needing work as soon as possible, she encounters charming Franklin, who offers her a dangerous job as a drug mule. With cocaine pellets in her stomach, Maria flies to New York for the drug drop-off, but finds her new line of work may be far riskier than it initially seemed. 

Light-Hearted Romantic Comedy:

The Big Sick (2017, USA) – Kumail is a Pakistani comic, who meets an American graduate student named Emily at one of his stand-up shows. As their relationship blossoms, he soon becomes worried about what his traditional Muslim parents will think of her. When Emily suddenly comes down with an illness that leaves her in a coma, Kumail finds himself developing a bond with her deeply concerned mother and father.

Samba (2014, France) – Sparks fly between an illegal immigrant and the caseworker who tries to help him stay in Paris.

Moscow on the Hudson (1984, USA) – A Russian musician, played by Robin Williams, defects to the United States and settles in New York with the help of a Bloomingdale’s employee.


Human Flow (2017, Germany) – More than 65 million people around the world have been forced from their homes to escape famine, climate change, and war; the greatest displacement since World War II. Filmmaker Ai Weiwei examines the staggering scale of the refugee crisis and its profoundly personal human impact. Over the course of one year in 23 countries, Weiwei follows a chain of urgent human stories that stretch across the globe, including Afghanistan, France, Greece, Germany and Iraq.

Fire at Sea (2016, Italy) – Shot on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa during the European migrant crisis. The film sets the migrants’ dangerous Mediterranean crossing against a background of the ordinary life of the islanders.

Which Way Home (2009, USA) – A group of young, unaccompanied Central American children struggle to make their way through Mexico, in order to ultimately reach the United States and jump the border to a new home. Director Rebecca Cammisa follows the struggles of these would-be illegal aliens as they battle poverty, dangerous train rides and potential predators, keeping their sights set on the possibility of a better life that awaits in a new country.

*Movie descriptions sourced from Google.

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