By Christopher Rogy
Did you know the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is calling for video submissions? The aim is to explore stories from people who impact their communities through dreams, experiences and dedication. And did you know that under the Obama Administration, the number of deported people from the U.S. has increased by over 70 percent? What do these two factoids have in common, you ask? Well, one video finalist raises questions about Obama’s deportation policies affecting communities across the country. While the President has said in a speech that the policies are meant for the most violent offenders, not families or “folks who are looking to scrape together an income,” My Asian Americana highlights how the fathers, mothers, sons and daughters most affected by deportation are in every way average Americans.
I am originally from the Philadelphia area, where more than 20,000 Cambodian-Americans currently reside. In the past two years, I have split my time living in Cambodia and the U.S., and in that time I have developed friendships with deported people abroad. I have seen the devastating effects these immigration policies have on their families and loved ones. But beyond that, I recognize the value of their presence in American society. I see their hard-work and dedication to family and community, how fully serving sentences has changed their lives, and most heart-breaking of all, I see the loss felt in their absence at home.
Deportation is unique for the Cambodian-American population that came to the U.S. as refugees following the Cambodian Genocide that ended in 1979. Several complex factors contribute to this uniqueness worth highlighting: the role the U.S. played in the rise of the Khmer Rouge, the complicated personal histories of Cambodian refugees and the circumstances through which immigrants have become eligible for deportation, in part due to retroactive immigration laws of 1996. Despite this uniqueness, the universality of human rights infringements (PDF) inherent in many deportation cases remains. In these cases we see a disregard for principles of proportionality and right to family.
Before you access the video challenge to vote for your favorite video, I invite you to watch My Asian Americana to truly understand the human rights injustice that’s embedded deep within U.S. deportation policies.
Title of Video: My Asian Americana
Date Posted: October 30, 2011
Length: 3:00 mins
Who Made it: StudioRevolt / Anida Yoeu Ali
Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Human Rights Issue: Proportionality, Right to Family, Deportation
Here are excerpts from my interview with filmmaker Anida Yoeu Ali:
On the trauma to families of deportation:
“Deportations create more traumas within an already scarred refugee community by severing relationships and breaking up families. Current immigration laws are the most anti-immigrant in all of U.S. history.”
On the purpose of making her video:
“The goal of My Asian Americana is to present a vignette that humanizes the experience of deportees. To blur the lines of ‘who is’ and ‘what’ makes someone an ‘American’ and ultimately question what and where is ‘home.’ We didn’t want to beat people over the head with the issue or present it with a dogmatic tone, we were interested in people feeling empathy and relating to the issue in a loving manner.”
“Our target was directed at the people of the AAPI Initiative who would be watching the entries. We were interested in creating a different kind of contest entry – a video that would challenge the challenge itself. Although the issue of deportation targets Cambodian-Americans within an Asian American framework, we believe that humanizing the experience as ‘exiles’ who can’t ‘go home’ connects the issue of deportation with other communities also struggling with deportations.”