On Saturday Oct. 24, the pivotal documentary entitled “This is My Home Now” will be presented at the Joseph M. Bryan, Jr. Auditorium on the campus of Guilford College. The film tells the story of one Vietnamese population’s immersion and continuing life within the Greensboro community.
Conceived and directed by UNC-Greensboro alumna and former media studies professor Mariah Dunn Kramer, “Home” was commissioned by the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) and produced by the Greensboro Historical Museum, the site of its original premiere and of the immigrants’ regular meetings. Recent UNCG graduate, Sierea Schubach, was working as the production’s intern and assistant director.
In the spring of 2014, Schubach was a student in one of Kramer’s level-one film production courses in the Media Studies department. Kramer was impressed with her knack for storytelling and her agility behind the camera. Later in the year, she pitched her idea to Schubach, who would graduate in the spring of the following year. Schubach accepted.
“I was drawn to this project for several reasons,” Schubach explained. “I have always had an intense love for human stories. That’s really the reason I decided to study filmmaking: to find and display those stories.”
A curious student seeking experience, she had never attempted work on a documentary before, although the challenge of the concept excited her. As a history minor, she harbored a passion for understanding and sharing the stories of other cultures’ histories. Within “Home,” she saw a window of opportunity.
The story crafted in this film is that of the Montagnards, an indigenous population from Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Their name is a term meaning “mountain people” in French, a carryover from the European nation’s colonial period of the 1950s. After the Vietnam War, many native people who had fought alongside American forces to end communism — including the Montagnards — faced religious and social persecution from their government. Much of the hostility they endured came in the form of genocide.
As a result, significant portions of the country’s population fled, finding temporary refuge in Cambodian camps and later immigrating to the United States. Greensboro is currently home to the single largest Montagnard population in the country.
Before the creation of “Home,” however, their voices were largely silent. The only real, recognizable reference to these people in American popular culture appeared in the 2008 film “Gran Torino,” which followed Clint Eastwood’s hostile relationship with his neighbors, immigrants from Vietnam’s Hmong group who lived alongside the Montagnards and other hill tribes in Laos and China.
“Before working on this project, I had no idea who the Montagnard people were,” admitted Schubach, echoing the likely sentiment of many other residents of the Gate City. “This project has really given me a lot of insight into the struggles of being a refugee, especially when you are a teenager and you’re from one world but growing up in another.”
Through the making of the film, she explained, she discovered the cultural identity issues pervading the modern Montagnard community relating to “old” and “new” ways. As she interviewed and worked with these people, Schubach was struck by how welcoming and thankful they were that someone was finally telling their story.
“Home” details the experiences of several Greensboro-based families, showing their daily routines between church, work and school. Schubach unearthed feelings of tension among their teenaged children, who struggle to determine whether they can simultaneously be Montagnard and American. She also witnessed eye-opening accounts of the Vietnam War, which she said were quite different from the concepts she was taught in school.
One story that stood out to her was that of Greensboro resident Philip Krongkon’s father, Y’Minh. When the war ended, Krongkon said that American troops departed abruptly, leaving the Montagnard people to fend for themselves against their government, whose attacks became increasingly brutal in the name of communism. Y’Minh was part of a guerilla group that acted in defense of these attacks, and helped Montagnard citizens escape the country, earning him a spot on the Vietnamese government’s hit list and endangering his own family.
According to Schubach, “This is My Home Now” is a tool to maintain Montagnard culture — an effort which she says is incredibly important.
“This is a culture that is dwindling,” she said. “Many of the Montagnards who were able to come to the United States as refugees were unable to bring much with them… It is important we keep their stories alive and recognize that these people are part of the Greensboro community.”
From the film’s creation came a new civic group: The Montagnard American Organization. Their meetings at the Historical Museum continue to help welcome and integrate immigrants into American life, and have many events planned for the future, including the showing on Oct. 24.
The event at Guilford College will be held at 12:00 p.m. and is the first in an educational tour across several North Carolinian universities. In addition to a screening of “This is My Home Now,” it will feature the music of renowned Montagnard artists Y’Suk Buounkrong and Ama Philip, traditional and contemporary dancing, weaving and basket making. There will also be a panel discussion following the film.
Those interested in attending are encouraged to visit the film’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Thisismyhomenow.
Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Upcoming A&E Events, Visual & Performance
UNCG should be proud to know that there are a number of Montagnard Spartans, both current and past. Through the efforts of Dr Sharon Morrison, Dr Sudha Shreeniwas, and Dr Jigna Dharod, students from UNCG, Guilford College and other schools have been conducting the longest running community-based research project with the Montagnard community started a few years back. The core of the research team are Montagnard students.