Filmfort’s presentation of Rita on Wednesday brought an impressive crowd that truly showed Boise’s support for the refugee community. This was a beautiful thing to witness, especially after President Trump’s recent travel and immigration ban that stops refugees from seven Muslim countries from entering the United States. Even though Idaho’s government voted in favor of Trump and may support the new immigration order, many Idaho residents disagree and welcome refugees with open arms.
The presentation began with Angie Smith talking about her refugee project and exhibit Stronger Shines the Light Inside. Angie is a Eugene, Oregon native who was inspired to start the project five years ago when she noticed a large refugee presence in the Boise area. The project took flight in 2014 when Angie began meeting and photographing local refugees to tell their stories of resettlement in Idaho. At one point during the project Angie photographed Rita Thara Yenga, who motivated Ron Torres to create the short film that “Rita”.
The movie itself was only four minutes long, but it left most of the audience with tears in their eyes. With such a short timespan, Ron captured Rita’s passion for fashion by filming as she created and sewed her one-of-a-kind clothing and purses. Rita was close to achieving her dream of opening a clothing store when the international market burned down. While this tragedy hurt Rita deeply and caused some setbacks, she didn’t let it stop her from pushing on. Rita is still designing and working to open a clothing store that features her own designs.
After the film was shown, we were lucky enough to partake in a panel discussion with the director of Idaho’s Office for Refugees, Angie, Ron, and three Boise refugees (including Rita). The director asked a few pre-arranged questions, and afterwards they opened up the floor for an audience discussion. Hands flew up around the room, and people predominately asked questions about how the Boise refugees liked Boise. Do they feel safe? Do they feel accepted? The answer across the board was “yes”, and people grinned from ear to ear around the room.
Even though there was a room full of individuals at Filmfort who support the refugee community, there are many others who are strongly against refugee immigration to the states. A lot of this negativity boils down to fear of diversity and the unknown. Generally these opinions are solely based on stereotypes and regurgitated information that isn’t factual. Take some time to research the refugee application process (it’s more in-depth and detailed than you think) and understand your neighbors. Dive in and read the stories that Angie put together for her exhibit to understand what being a refugee really means.