• Tina Van

Strangers in Town - Giving Voice to the Lived Experience of Immigrating to America

"Every friend was once a stranger to you."

In an effort to help shine a light on the unique challenges of immigrants, we are hosting an online movie night on September 17th in partnership with KBTC.  The movie will be followed by a panel discussion with choir members and the film's director.


Strangers in Town (2018) tells the story of how global migration transformed a rural town in Kansas to be the most ethnically diverse in the state. In Garden City, the diversity of culture and heritage gives new meaning to the city's motto "the world grows here."


Strangers in Town shines light on a range of experiences that residents of Kansas City have had after immigrating from their home countries to the United States. Economic opportunity and a low-cost of living attracted many recent immigrants to settle down and make a home in Garden City. Long-time residents had a fear of seeing so many "strangers in town." According to censusreporter.org, about 61% of Garden City residents identify as being non-white, with a strong hispanic representation, and asian being the second largest ethnic group in the city. (To put it into context, our Tacoma community is 41% non-white.) However, These figures do not tell us much about the culture and depth of these experiences, and it does not account for the dark figures in which households do not report their demographics to the Census out of fear or mistrust. (Which is why it is so important to fill out the Census!)


In this film, you will see these figures brought to life through a series of intimate interviews commenting on the lived experience of pursuing the "American Dream." But, that is not to say it was walk in the park for recent immigrants to make a home out of Garden City. It is a journey that many of the residents in Garden City have embraced in the face of anti-immigrant sentiment. Also, the intergenerational representation in this film does a great job of following this journey through the lens of first, second, and, even, third generation Americans, which is so important when we seek to understand the acceptance and merging of different cultures. Many who identify closely with the immigrant narrative have a strong pride in their American identity just as much as they do for their cultural heritage.


This rural community is a prime example of how everyone can benefit when even the "strangers in town" feel welcomed and appreciated. The open ended storytelling and diverse range of interviews in Strangers in Town will help spark the dialogue we would like to see around welcoming immigrants.


After all, every friend was once a stranger to you.

On Thursday September 17th, we will be hosting a virtual watch party of "Strangers in Town" to celebrate this year's Welcoming Week (September 12th - September 20th).


The film screening will be followed with an intimate discussion featuring film director, Steve Lerner, and guest panelists with a variety of experiences immigrating from their home countries to the United States. We will be discussing these questions in the guest panel following the screening.

Questions to consider when watching the film:


1. What reactions did you have while watching the film?

2. What person or story touched you the most?

3. Did you identify with any of the people or any of their stories?

4. If you are not Native American, when did your parents, grandparents, great-parents or

ancestors first come to this country?

Do you know where they came from, and what brought them here?

5. When you think about immigrants, who in your own family comes to mind?

6. What did you not like or disagree with in the film?

7. Did anything in the film make you uncomfortable?

8. How does Garden City compare to your own community regarding welcoming people who are

different from the dominant group (usually that is white Americans).

9. Did watching the film change your thinking in any way?

10. Why do you think immigration has become such a hot-button issue in the United States?

11. We are happy to tell you that Fernando was able to return to the United States legally, and now lives in New York. How did his story affect you?

12. If you were the filmmaker making Strangers In Town, what would you have done differently?



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