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I learn America

A documentary film by Jean-Michel Dissard & Gitte Peng

The children of immigration, here to stay, are the new Americans. How we fare in welcoming them will determine the nature of this country in the 21st century and beyond.

In ”I Learn America,” five resilient immigrant teenagers come together over a year at the International High School at Lafayette and struggle to learn their new land.

 

The International High School is a New York City public school dedicated to serving newly arrived immigrant teenagers, with more than 300 students speaking two-dozen languages from 50 countries. The students strive to master English, adapt to families they haven’t seen in years, confront the universal trials of adolescence, and search for a future they can claim as their own.

 

Through these five vibrant young people, their stories and struggles, and their willingness to open their lives and share them with us, we “learn America.”

BRANDON.

BRANDON (15, Guatemala) crossed the border to the United States to reunite with his mother after ten years apart.  Making the perilous journey was easy compared to getting to know his mom again.  In America, she has remarried, leaving Brandon to face the difficult task of finding his place in his new family.  He is struggling to focus on his schoolwork and becomes distracted as he falls in love with a girl from Honduras.  Will he be able to bond with his mother and meet her expectations for him to do well in America? What kind of future can he count on without papers?

ITRAT.

ITRAT (17, Pakistan) came to America to join her father she barely knew after the passing of her mother.  At school, she’s vivacious and outspoken.  She is also a devout Muslim and fulfills a traditional role at home, cooking and cleaning for her father and brothers. With feet in two worlds, she is increasingly anxious.  What kind of future is waiting for her?  Will she return to Pakistan to marry or will she go to college and build her independence?

SANDRA.

SANDRA (17, Poland) is a tomboy and class leader. She’s also undocumented. Sandra has grown confident in identifying as a girl who dresses like a boy, but as Prom nears, she confronts her parents’ insistence that she wears a dress. As she faces graduation, she also fears that being undocumented means she will lose all she has gained once she leaves the security of the school.

JENNIFFER.

JENNIFFER (17, Dominican Republic), her mother and her 2 sisters left an unsafe family situation in the D.R for a better life in New York City. She’s a sassy teenage girl and Sandra’s inseparable best friend – “like a flower with water.” — Now, will she be able to help Sandra assert her identity at Prom and beyond?

SING.

SING (18, Myanmar), a refugee, recently relocated to Brooklyn and left his family behind.  He barely speaks English and never expected to land in America.  At school, no one else speaks his language and his poor English prevents him from making friends.  He is isolated and angry.  Will his English teacher help him to find his voice?

Video of our film premiere in New York City

Our big New York Premiere took place at DOC NYC.  We turned it into a real community gathering!!

Itrat, Sandra, Brandon, Jenniffer, Gitte, Jean Michel and the whole team used the event to remind the audience:

“The children of immigration are here to stay. The way we fare in welcoming them will define who we are for years to come.”

In association with our partners at Make the Road New York, The New York Immigration Coalition, FWD.us, Internationals Network for Public Schools, International High School at Lafayette, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), The Vilcek Foundation, Active Voice, The International High School @ Prospect Heights, United We Dream, Facing History and Ourselves, Women’s Refugee Commission, First Focus, NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, NYC Dept of Ed (ELL’s office) — And many more.

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