October 20 – Welcoming Strangers
On Friday, October 20, we hosted a screening of the documentary Welcoming Strangers, Finding Brothers and Sisters at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. This time, Welcoming Strangers was proceeded by the screening of a documentary titled Refuge, which told the story of a Syrian family that left their country looking for safety in Indianapolis. The family was present and brought enough Syrian food for all to enjoy.
Tutu Fellows, Dr. Susan Adams and Dr. Brooke Kandel-Cisco then started the screening of Welcoming Strangers. The film elicited feelings of compassion and camaraderie among the audience. The audience, predominantly from the Marion and Hamilton counties, were entranced with the film and how the Burmese community started to become an integral part of the Indianapolis community. After the screening was over, Reverend Bever and a Burmese youth, Easter Day, proceeded to the front of the room to take questions. Easter Day, a senior at North Central High School, is the sister of Sun Light – a young man who has served on the panel during previous screening of the documentary. The first question asked to Easter was about how bad the situation in Burma was. She answered by telling the story of how her parents ran away from their homes into the jungle because their house was bombed all of sudden. When they ran, they had no food or medication, but they had no other option. As Easter Day told the story, the room grew quiet and somber.
Reverend Bever was asked if he knew how many Burmese people lived in Indiana, and he said that his best estimate is that there is about two thousand Karen people but 10,000 Burmese people total. After the question, a member of the audience raised her hand and announced that she had brought her Burmese friend with her to watch the documentary. She grew emotional as she talked about her friend: she said the friend works two jobs while in college and still manages to find time to take care of her family. The woman called for all to accept and support our Burmese immigrants, as she said they are hardworking and kind people.
The last question of the evening came from a woman that asked how things have changed since the filming of the documentary. Reverend Bever explained that the Burmese Community Center for Education (BCCE) had to scale back programming, but the staff continues to do what they can. He finished by saying: “Our responsibility is to advocate for change and make our voices heard in order to welcome the refugees. Call your Representatives, I can’t overstate the impact of phone calls, it is the only way policy will change.” The audience clapped in accordance, and the night wrapped up in high and hopeful spirits.
The event was made possible due to funding from Indiana Humanities and the Indianapolis Foundation.