If you go

What: Becoming American: An Immigration Film and Discussion Series

When: 6 p.m. Every Tuesday from Jan. 29- Feb. 26

Where: Museum of Boulder at Tebo Center, 2205 Broadway, Boulder

Cost: free

More info: museumofboulder.org/event/becoming-american

For centuries, people have been flocking to America in search of a promise of a better tomorrow. The journey is often marked with both intense hardship and shining resilience.

Dona Laurita’s "The Silhouette Project" is on display at the Museum of Boulder.
Dona Laurita's "The Silhouette Project" is on display at the Museum of Boulder. (Courtesy photo)

"Becoming American," a traveling film series that incorporates art and lectures, is currently at the Museum of Boulder — the only nonprofit in Colorado selected to participate in the grant-funded program. The ongoing, six-week event, chronicles different perspectives through mediums that prove to be engaging, eye-opening and indelible.

"We are honored to have been chosen by the National Endowment for the Humanities to offer this program in Boulder," said Megan Moriarty, director of community engagement for the Museum of Boulder. "I hope the program creates the space for an informed discussion about immigration in the United States, as well as provides a venue for neighbors to learn about each other's diverse backgrounds and recognize how many of us share similar immigration stories."


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Now in its second week, the free series remains a draw for students, historians, professors and community members of all backgrounds. On Tuesday, attendees will be treated to the 2009 documentary "Welcome to Shelbyville," which gives an emotional look into one Bible Belt town's reaction to the influx of Somali refugees and a growing Hispanic population. A light is shone on cultural differences, unexpected friendships, misunderstandings, prejudice and mutuality that can eventually prosper when long-standing residents welcome newcomers.

A scene from the film "Welcome to Shelbyville," which will be screened as part of the Museum of Boulder’s "Becoming American: An
A scene from the film "Welcome to Shelbyville," which will be screened as part of the Museum of Boulder's "Becoming American: An Immigration Film and Discussion Series." (Greg Poschman / Courtesy photo)

Telling stories of dreamers

In conjunction with the ongoing films, attendees can take in the poignant work of Louisville-based photographer Dona Laurita. In her series, "The Silhouette Project: Stories of Immigrants, Refugees and Dreamers," she captures powerful black-and-white photographs that hold a sense of mystery and an otherworldly, at times ethereal, vibe. Paired with the images are journal-like entries that give an inside look into the innermost thoughts of those who have started over beneath purple mountain majesties, against amber waves of grain. What began in 2016 has grown into an ever-evolving project — highlighting various individuals in their quest to adjust and settle in the States.

A scene from the film "Welcome to Shelbyville,"
A scene from the film "Welcome to Shelbyville," (Greg Poschman / Courtesy photo)

"I'm excited to show Dona's work during this series because it incorporates the voices and stories of local immigrants and refugees," said Moriarty. "Her series brings the conversation about immigration into the present day. The 'Becoming American' series is focused on the history of immigration and her work shares the voices of recent immigrants, refugees and Dreamers living in our community today. Also, I believe art like 'The Silhouette Project' allows us to find common ground with each other."

Sparking conversation

Dr. Nick Villanueva, assistant professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, will be moderating the discussions post-film, where attendees can voice their concerns and viewpoints in a relaxed atmosphere sure to spark plenty of lively dialogue.

"The NEH requires we partner with a local scholar to help moderate the series and Nick is the perfect partner, given his extensive experience teaching — in and out of school — adults about immigration in the United States," said Moriarty. "Participants will benefit from his scholarly expertise on issues of citizenship, national identity and community, as well as his experience facilitating workshops on contentious issues."

From capturing both the joys and struggles of a Dominican family chasing the American dream, in New York City, in 2001's "My American Girls" to showing the journey of Irish immigrants into Ellis Island in the late-1800s in "Destination America: The Golden Door," the films offer a layered look into what newcomers face.

"I'm looking forward to the entire series," said Moriarty, "but I think the final session on 'Immigration and Popular Culture' will be especially impactful given the current political backdrop and the push for better representation of recent immigrant voices in popular culture, like TV and movies."

In the concluding night of the series, on Feb. 26, the film "The Search for General Tso"— a freewheeling look at Chinese food in America — will be screened. Through interviews, it explores the culinary phenomenon and origin of Tso Chicken, a delicacy that's managed to spring up on the menus of Asian food restaurants far and wide. Themes like commodification of culture, the Americanization of ethnic fare and the concept of Chinese food as comfort food all surface in this delectable and sometimes humorous documentary.

"I'm looking forward to having community members use our new museum space to have honest, thoughtful discussions about a topic that is often misunderstood and talked about in sound bites," said Moriarty. "I hope the documentary films, paired with facilitated discussions, will allow us to go beyond the rhetoric around immigration and get to know each other as neighbors."

Kalene McCort: 303-473-1107, kmccort@dailycamera.com