Immigrant Struggles To Start A New Life In Thomas Mccarthy's Movie The Visitor

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The Visitor (2008) is a film directed by Thomas McCarthy with a thematic focus on immigration. The movie incorporated humor, practicality, and social interactions to make it appealing and realistic. These aspects of the movie are created as the protagonist, Walter, attempted to grieve and convalesce from his wife’s death. Walter, a professor finds himself depressed after the death of his wife. After returning from a conference, Walter entered his New York apartment to discover a couple, Tarek and Zainab, leasing his apartment illegally. After a confrontation with them, Walter becomes empathetic and offers them to stay in the apartment. He soon learned that Tarek drums with a jazz band and offers to give Walter lessons thus, a relationship form between them.

Tragedy happened when Tarek was imprisoned by police. He was mistaken for not swiping his metro card in a crowded subway station. He was quickly arrested and locked up in a privately-run detention center in Queens, New York for undocumented immigrants. We soon learn that his family and friends are in the United States illegally and Walter is the only source of help. After Tarek missed his weekly calls with his mother, Mouna who lives in Michigan, she comes looking for him only to find out he is being held in a detention center. Walter desperately tried to help Tarek by hiring an immigration lawyer, but time is running out. Tarek is eventually exiled to his home country, Syria.

The Visitor is an adroit title for the movie. Tarek, Zainab, and Mouna are all “visitors” to Walter. They come into Walter’s life, leave an impression on his heart and leave. Walter may not be able to see them again however, the impact they have made on his life has him wanting to do more. Tarek, Zainab, and Mouna are all “visitors” to the United States because they are illegal immigrants. They desperately try to blend in with the crowded streets of New York City. They are “visitors” because they do not have documentation to stay.

Intersectionality is known as a scaffold for theorizing a person, group of people, or social conflict that are affected by bias and disadvantages. It takes into consideration an individual’s intersecting identities and occurrences in the hopes of understanding the intolerances they encounter. In chapter 12 of Diversity, Oppression, and Change (Marsiglia & Kulis, 2015) members of oppressed and underprivileged communities face many hurdles in their mission to advance socially, economically, and spiritually. Some of the hardships these individuals face is a direct result of misinterpretations concerning their cultural status, racial disparity, lack of support system, and labels portrayed by the media.

Tarek, Zainab, and Mouna are all members of the oppressed community. They are living and working in the United States even though they are illegal immigrants in the hopes of a better life. In chapter 3 (Freire, 2006) mentioned how human existence cannot be silent, nor can it be nourished by false words, but rather by true words, in which men and women transform the world. For one to exist humanly, is to change the world. Human beings are not built in silence, but in word, in work, in action-reflection.

In the article Deportations Show Broken System (Beyer, 2005) based on the data from immigration and customs enforcement, around 400,000 illegal immigrants are under orders to leave the United States in any given year. The number of deportations or removals has increased up 45 percent between 2001 and 2004 when more than 140,000 people were removed. According to Patricia Bezares, when the United States looked at its immigration problems, it’s mistaking the symptoms with illness. The problem is not with immigration but rather a poverty in Central America. She explained that the conditions in which these people live are so poor that they have no other choice but to leave in spite of the risks they face ahead. Although Tarek, Zainab, and Mouna left their homeland in search of a better life, their American dream is delayed when Tarek is deported. Tarek was not a terrorist. He was a good man. His dreams were likely anyone else- to live a safe, happy, and productive life. The system is so broken, and it makes it nearly impossible for immigrants to come to the United States legally/

According to the article Forgetting Its Common Humanity: America’s Immigration Story (Maddali, 2018) in 2014, Andres Jimenez, a 10-year-old boy requested President Obama to reunite his family and families like his that have been torn apart by deportation. It is noted in the article the recent battle to define U.S. values is perhaps most apparent in-laws and procedures about immigrants and their families. Despite the political party, the reality for many immigrant families in the United States is that the laws and policies have led to uncertainty, departure, or both. Discussions on immigration focused on characteristics of honesty, sympathy, and kinship although hidden away for some time.

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Our first president, George Washington, stated that “the bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable stranger but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions.” However, immigrants today face much greater hardships than in the past. It has become gradually problematic for immigrants to maintain family integrity under the current immigration system. They endure many obstacles along the way such as long via wait times and risk being deported. An example of this is Tarek, Zainab, and Mouna who left their home countries in search of a better life in the United States. The government makes it nearly impossible for them to obtain citizenship.

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire, 2006) mentioned that “the oppressors do not perceive their monopoly on having more as a privilege which dehumanizes others and themselves... The oppressed are regarded as potential enemies who must be watched” (pp. 59). This quote is directed to the oppressors who do not believe that what they are doing is erroneous. The oppressors, in this case, can be referred to the government who held Tarek in a detention center for being an undocumented immigrant. The government strongly believed that the controls they have formed or the funds they have captured is in anyway dehumanizing to the people who are oppressed such as Tarek. The oppressors do not see their self-centered ways as belittling to human principles. This can be seen when Tarek is mistakenly detained by police for not paying his fare in a crowded subway station. They quickly arrest him and send him to a detention center because he is undocumented.

The police think that having more opportunities is their right and that Tarek deserved to be mistreated. The oppressors strongly believe that the right to domination or having more is a privilege they have earned through their powers and bravery to take chances. They believe people like Tarek are lazy and they do not have proficiencies that allow them to do more with their lives. The oppressors feel that the Tarek is unappreciative and jealous of them because of their triumph and therefore he should be treated as a foe who always needs to be watched. The oppressed believe if Tarek is not viewed as a nemesis then he may cause damage because of his ingratitude and envious characteristics.

In the context of “humanization” and “dehumanization” when (Freire, 2006) observed that “almost always the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend to become oppressors” (pp. 45) he was referring to humanization as a matter of understanding the inherent self-worth all members of the human race have. This helped in recognizing the ethical standards which lessen hostility and violence. Viewing an enemy as evil or less human makes the world a violent place. To humanize is to engage with other humans regardless of differences. On the other hand, dehumanization refers to a procedure by which one group or person views another group or person not worthy of humanitarian treatment. This leads to crime and mistreatment against mankind and innocent people become the victim.

Dehumanization stops human beings from attaining the freedom to comprehend and change their circumstance. This is seen in the movie when Tarek used his train card to allow Walter through and he is entwined in the gate. Police are waiting and watching and accuse him of jumping the gate even though he paid. They dehumanize him arrest him immediately and their response to him is cold and harsh. When he is brought to the police station, they soon learn that he is undocumented, and he is detained. They fear Tarek is a terrorist although Tarek explained that terrorists have money and support and not as worthy as he is. Even with the immigration lawyer Walter has hired, Tarek remained defenseless to the government and is deported back to Syria without the Syrian authorities. He was placed in jail and by the time he was freed, he was too sick to live. How power works is often the same, no matter where one finds themselves in life.

Furthermore, Tarek and Zainab faced many obstacles coming to a new land. They were resilient in that they needed to find living quarters and Zainab was able to sell her jewelry as a source of income. Zainab was a very proud person as portrayed when Walter offered her a place to live and she left to go to her family in the Bronx. I found Walter to be a most generous and caring man even though he was going through a dark time in his own life. Tarek’s mother, Mouna showed strength as she was willing to go back to Syria knowing that her return to the United States would most likely not be possible. Although Tarek was an undocumented immigrant, he and Zainab were determined to achieve citizenship regardless of the obstacles they endured.

In the scene when Tarek, Zainab, and Walter are eating dinner, Tarek has wine, but Zainab does not. Tarek jokingly said to Walter “she is a good Muslim and I am a bad one.” Zainab takes pride in her religion and does not go against her beliefs. Zainab revealed to Walter that when she first arrived in the United States, she was held against her will in a detention facility for five months. When the detention center was deemed unfit it closed and she was released along with other women. However, none of the men were freed. At the end of the movie, we see Zainab crying when she learned that Tarek was sent back to Syria.

As I watched the movie, I was moved and surprised by Walter’s generosity. As he opened the door to his apartment and found that it was leased to strangers was shocking to me. His hospitality was admirable. As he learned about Tarek and Zainab a strong friendship and bond developed. He even went so far as to contact an immigration attorney to help Tarek with his dilemma. It was upsetting to me that Tarek was deported after all the efforts made and that his mom felt that she needed to follow him back to Syria where she would likely have the possibility of not returning.

To conclude, something I learned from watching this film and writing this paper is that it is a difficult journey for those trying to gain citizenship in the United States and that many good people are turned away. Although it is a complicated system, I do believe it is necessary to enter the country legally.

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