Unearthing immigrant voices

DECCAN CHRONICLE. | BHAVANA AKELLA
Published Mar 12, 2017, 12:00 am IST
Updated Mar 13, 2017, 2:01 pm IST
Through the project, ‘Aliens With Visas’, Sandhya Ramachandran, an Indian filmmaker living in US, is starting the conversation on immigrant lives.
Sandhya Ramachandran
 Sandhya Ramachandran

At a time when nationalist forces across the world are gaining ground, the life of immigrants, especially in the US, has been nothing less than unpredictable, and if one may say, perilous. In the recent few months alone, there have been attacks on Indian immigrants living in the US, which caught the world’s attention, leading to fear sprouting up in the minds of many Indians living there, and also among those who wish to.

With an aim to ease the life of Indians living in the US, Sandhya Ramachandran, a young Indian filmmaker living in the US, started a project named, ‘Aliens With Visas’, a platform to give voice to the  immigrants themselves, than hear about them through other media.

 

The independent web platform, which was launched on International Women’s Day, will have podcasts released every week and will have narrations through the voices of the immigrants. It will also host open discussions on the stages of assimilation, the ideas of race, Indian identity, student life, social life among other subjects.

Sandhya, a 25-year-old filmmaker of Tamil-origin, is an Indian who was born in Dubai and pursued her Bachelor’s in electronic media from MOP Vaishnav College, Chennai, before moving to Boston, US for her masters. That was when she realised that finding employment in the US, while being an immigrant, was a huge difficulty.

About the project, Sandhya tells us, “As a young filmmaker, my own circumstances were my muse. As I navigated the transition from grad school to looking for a job in Los Angeles, I realised that every notion of mine was challenged one after the other. It is very difficult to admit even to yourself that things are tough and hopeless, let alone out loud when you think of the money you spent on an education and the fact that everyone else — pop culture, media outlets to fellow relatives — are always touting America as the land where dreams are made. An international student seeking employment, in some ways, is a disability that isn’t listed in any of the forms you fill out.”

She adds that there is no required corporate infrastructure to handle legalities of transitioning of work status for students belonging to streams other than science and technology.

On the reason for calling the project ‘Aliens With Visas’, she explains, “In American legal parlance, anyone who is not a citizen is referred to as an alien — legal alien or illegal alien notwithstanding. A student immigrant, on all official papers, is referred to as a non-resident alien. That's what you need to tick while filling out your tax forms too and it doesn't change until you are a citizen of this country. I thought this was a fun way to highlight a slightly problematic term!”
Sandhya aims to feature student hacks and resources that can help an international student's life, while also giving the perspectives of American youngsters in this dialogue. “Not many are keen to speak on camera about this topic due to the fear of ridicule or of jeopardising chances of employment. I figured podcasts are ideal for niche topics and infotainment — it also allows me to interview people from many parts of the country with just a mic and a good internet connection,” Sandhya believes.

“When I started this project in early 2016, there wasn't much public interest for immigrants. But with the elections, there has been a very interesting turn of events. Besides the US government, or higher education institutions doing their part, there are things that we can do to equip incoming international students just by being far more open and honest about life in America. A show like this puts the power back into our hands. When we speak our truth unflinchingly, it empowers both the individual and the community and encourages empathy. I am hoping that non-Indians will tune into the show too,” Sandhya says, signing off.

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