On November 12th, we hosted a documentary screening of Easy Lessons, a film centered on Kafiya, a young Somali refugee who migrates to Hungary. The film follows Kafiya’s daily life from attending school to learning how to swim. Among these scenes of normality, we go deeper into her story—how she fled Somalia to escape a child marriage, her internal struggle to retain her cultural roots while adapting to a new culture and at the same time, defining a foreign land as her new home. The film touches on topics of cultural identity, societal perceptions of refugees, religion, and the overwhelming feeling of loneliness when starting anew.
Kafiya’s story is one that I have a particular tenderness in my heart for. As the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, there are shared themes among the refugee experience. My parents fled their hometowns during the Vietnam War and spent years in a camp in Thailand before receiving acceptance in another country. When Kafiya expressed how she was raised to not show her emotions, I thought of the similarity in the way my parents present themselves. When they tell me of how the boats carrying refugees were shot at and destroyed by pirates, of how their toes were bitten by the starving rats in the camps, and how they would hide in shelters during the bombings, they hold a straight face and speak matter-of-factly. They do not show emotion in response to the great tragedies they have faced because they need to be strong—for themselves, for their families, and for their community. It is this strength among refugees that keeps them afloat and able to get by from day to day.
In a scene where Kafiya is walking across the street, she narrates and states that people do not think that she is refugee; she is not “dressed like refugee” or fits this preconceived notion of what a refugee looks like. People who have been forced to flee their homelands look exactly like what they are—people. Like my mother or father or like Kafiya, who in the end just wants to live some semblance of a normal life. The topic of immigration and refugees is often politicized but at its core, it’s about humans and human rights and that is what I connected most with Easy Lessons. Kafiya is a refugee and she is also like any other teenage girl who is trying to navigate dating, schoolwork, and building meaningful relationships. The film shows Kafiya through a human lens and focuses on her story as an individual while highlighting all the different facets of her identity. If you have the time, spend an evening and listen to Kafia’s story of growth, strength, and resilience in the face of adversity.
Written by Christine Trinh
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