Family and Community

  1. Century of Immigration
  2. Promise & Prejudice
  3. Between Two Worlds: Identity & Acculturation
  4. Help Wanted? Immigration and Work
  5. Family & Community
  6. Immigration and Popular Culture
  7. Becoming American Home

Thursday, November 15th: 6-8pm at Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library Meeting Rooms A-C

Film: My American Girls

My American GirlsProduced and directed by Aaron Matthews, 2001
Winner, Best Documentary, San Francisco Latino Film Festival
Official Selection, Human Rights Watch International Film Festival
Official Selection, New York Latino Film Festival
Finalist, Chicago Latino Film Festival
PBS Broadcast, P.O.V.

Running time for film: 62 minutes

Described by the Los Angeles Times as “packed with uncommon honesty and humor,” this intimate cinema-verite documentary captures the contradictions of contemporary immigrant life in America, showcasing the rewards and the costs of assimilation.

Filmed over the course of a year, the film follows the family of Sandra and Bautista Ortiz, hardworking immigrants living frugally in a multi-family house in Brooklyn. From the Dominican Republic, they dream of retiring there, and actively save money to build a home among their Dominican friends and family there.

Their three American-born daughters have other ideas altogether. Monica, the hard-driving eldest, is an accomplished Ivy League student and athlete, who feels increasingly ill at ease with Dominican culture. Over the course of the film, she grows farther away from her family, and even begins to question the rigorous course of pre-medical study she had always expected she would pursue.

Mayra, the youngest, a self-described ‘’ghetto kid,” blames her trouble at school on her parents’ absence from home as they work multiple jobs to save money. Aida, the middle daughter, has no patience for her parents’ frugality, and wants to make money herself in order to buy the kind of consumer goods her friends have.

The conflict between the first generations’ values – attachment to their homeland, discipline and strong work ethic, clarity of goals and emphasis on family – and the independent outlooks of their second generation daughters forms the moving dramatic spine of the film.

Humanities Themes

Individualism, Familism and Communitarianism: Immigrants, like most Americans, struggle to balance individual dreams, family loyalties, and the need for a wider community but they do so as migration significantly re-arranges the churches they attend, the newspapers they read, the kinship circles living nearby and the individual opportunities they encounter.

Assimilation and Transnationalism: Family and kin provide the resources and emotional support that all immigrants need as they face the challenges of becoming American while also creating the most powerful incentives for remaining interested and involved in immigrants’ homelands.

Language and Bi-lingualism: Among elements of culture, language use within immigrant families and communities often become markers of loyalty, identity, and the power of inter-personal loyalties.

Gender and Sexuality. When homeland and American expectations of proper male and female behavior, particularly through sexual relations, families can become some of the most poignant and sharp sites of conflict.