On January 9, Tasneem Phe, local filmmaker and Pakistani immigrant released Creators For Change: We Are American – Part One and Two. She had a simple goal in mind — to raise awareness of the experiences of immigrants in Denver. Created as a two-part film, the documentary strove to cover a variety of issues within the immigrant experience while adjusting to Colorado and the pain and suffering that is often involved with moving from one’s home country.
A product of YouTube’s Creators for Change, a program designed to promote unity by funding storytellers to create content that spreads tolerance and counters hate, the two-part documentary explores the lives of Denver immigrants and their individual experiences.
“I immigrated to the U.S. when I was three from Pakistan,” explained Phe. “I always think about how random it is that I ended up in Colorado among all of the other places in the world that I could have ended up. So I wanted to see how other immigrants experiences were.”
After three months of networking, sending emails, messages and calls, Phe finally found the stories she was looking for. She came into contact with four local immigrants from across the globe. All expressed a uniquely different experience, but whether from Bosnia, Somalia or Mexico, all expressed one common thread — a love for colorful Colorado.
“I love pretty much everything about Colorado,” expressed Muhammad, Phe’s father. “I very much like the people who live here. And I improved in so many ways in my life and was blessed with so many things here. There are too many reasons to love Colorado.”
And we agree. Our state is an incredible place to live. And for those forced to leave their homeland, it’s a great place to land. But regardless of natural beauty and overall quality of life here in Colorado, the immigrant experience does remain riddled with trial and tribulation.
“Immigrants get lumped into one group,” said Phe. “But each individual experience is so different. But one thing that unifies is all is the hardships that every immigrant goes through.”
Suada, a Bosnian refugee, found herself in Colorado in 1996 with her family after fleeing her city during the Bosnian war. Her family, like many others in the country at the time, were told to leave for their safety, to “leave their city, leave their country and leave everything behind.” And Sauda is just one story of the thousands that ended up in Colorado after leaving their home.
One in 10 Colorado residents, or more than 540,000 people, were born in another country, according to a recent report from the New American Economy. Immigrants comprise of 11 percent of all entrepreneurs in Colorado. The top countries of origin being Mexico (43.3 percent of immigrants), India (4.4 percent), Vietnam (3.2 percent), Germany (3.2 percent) and China (3.1 percent) according to The American Immigration Council. And though Colorado may not have the highest immigrant population, they do have an impact on the community, representing roughly $10.8 billion in spending power, $3.3 billion in taxes and own more than 32,000 businesses employing more than 83,000 people in Colorado.
“I definitely wouldn’t call Colorado a diverse place,” said Phe. “Obviously the population as a whole has grown, and I’ve seen a big increase in the number of immigrants that have come here. When I moved here there definitely, definitely were not as many.”
Phe believes that Colorado, on a national scale, is doing a better job than other states at accommodating immigrants, though she does believe that more can be done.
“I would say that Colorado is doing a better job than some other states, but I mean… there’s more that they can do,” expressed Phe. “There’s always room for improvement.”
For those of us in the metro, it can be difficult to relate to the immigrant experience. For natives, born and raised in Colorado, our entire life is here. Mom and dad are right down the street (or at least within a short drive), our children go to Denver schools or our friends who we grew up with life and work nearby. We have deep roots in the Denver community. For refugees like Suada, however, who are forced to leave their home, coming to Colorado involves leaving that familiarity and community for an unfamiliar world. To leave your country, and as Suada explained it, “is to leave everything behind.”
Once here, refugees like Suada and her family began to make Colorado home, putting their kids in local schools and getting jobs in the Mile High. They did, however, remain true to their roots.
“The idea of integrating doesn’t mean that you know, wash everything away,” said Phe. “You don’t wipe away everything that you came from.”
Phe isn’t sure what her next pursuit will be or her next move in regard to the documentaries. She does, however, remain passionate about the immigrant experience, and plans to continue raising awareness on the topic in whatever form that may take.