HumanDocs premieres immigration-themed documentary as part of Tennessee Welcome Week

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Lipscomb University’s HumanDocs Film Series and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition are partnering to present the Tennessee premiere of “I Learn America,” a documentary about five teenage immigrants as they adapt to life in America, on Wednesday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m. in Lipscomb’s Shamblin Theatre.

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This free public screening serves to kick off the fifth anniversary season of the HumanDocs Film Series, presented by the School of Humanities within the College of Arts and Sciences. It is also one of three events held as part of the Tennessee Rights Coalition’s Welcoming Week, an event highlighting the contributions of immigrants to American communities.

HumanDocs is a social-justice documentary series that aims to create a more just, peaceful and inclusive university and city. “I Learn America” meets that goal by looking at issues of immigration, inclusion and language, culture and belief barriers, said series coordinator and Lipscomb Associate Professor of Spanish Ted Parks.

“I Learn America” follows five teenagers closely for a year at the International High School at Lafayette, a Brooklyn public high school dedicated to newly arrived immigrants from all over the world. The students strive to master English, adapt to families they haven’t seen in years, and create a future of their own while coming of age in a new land.

“By walking in their shoes as they encounter everything from social pressure to visa uncertainties, viewers will come to understand how these children – and the millions like them throughout the United States – are an integral part of American life today,” said the film’s director and producer Jean-Michel Dissard.

Dissard has produced films selected to appear at the Sundance Film Festival (“Raising Victor Vargas” and “Ezra”) and award-winning films such as “Rikers High,” which won Best Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Dissard, who was an immigrant to America himself at age 15, said the education system’s readiness to serve immigrant students is of particular relevance in cities like Nashville, where demographics have changed dramatically in recent years.

“Efforts to educate and integrate young immigrants across the country are limited. Schools lack the resources or understanding to meet the needs of new immigrant students. The traditional paradigm relegates them to the sidelines,” he said. “Yet school offers their first chance for sustained and meaningful participation in a new society. It is in school that they determine where they belong in… their new culture. It is through interactions with classmates, teachers, coaches, and social workers that they shape their identities.”

After the showing of “I Learn America,” there will be a discussion by a local panel of experts:

  • Moderator, Candice McQueen, dean, Lipscomb University College of Education;
  • Jan Lanier, ESL coordinator/Title III consultant, Division of Special Populations, Tennessee Department of Education;
  • Will Pinkston, school board member, District 7, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools;
  • Molly Sehring, teacher, Glencliff High School, one of Nashville's most diverse schools; and
  • Karla Chavez, a first-year student at Lipscomb University, who has lived undocumented in Tennessee since she was five and recently received deferred action for childhood arrivals.

The Tennessee Rights Coalition’s Welcoming Tennessee Initiative is a collaboration of concerned Tennesseans from all walks of life who are proud that Tennessee is a welcoming state and are working to continue that noble tradition by increasing understanding of how new Tennesseans share our values, contribute to our economy, enhance our combined culture and strengthen our communities.

The 2013 Welcoming Week, one of 25 such events being held throughout the nation this September, will also include the Inter“NASH”ional Food Crawl, featuring food from various businesses on the Nolensville Road corridor, on Saturday, Sept. 14, from noon to 3 p.m., and a Citizenship Assistance clinic on Saturday, Sept. 21, held in conjunction with the Nashville mayor’s New Americans Advisory Council. For details on locations contact the coalition at 615.833.0384

The HumanDocs Film Series is presented in partnership with the Nashville Film Festival and Nashville Public Television. The series will feature two additional films this semester: