The film Blue Collar and Buddha was released in 1986 and directed by Taggart Siegel and tells the narrative of the Lao Buddhists who immigrated to the town of Rockford, Illinois as refugees. The film starts with a clip of a news report of a bombing of a Buddhist Temple in which the reporter says that the police had not stated if this was a random act of violence or an extremist group hate crime against Buddhists, this sets the viewer up for the remainder of the film which discusses the hateful sentiments faced by the refugees. Starting with interviews with white American citizens I was disgusted by the racist ideas and open hatred towards these refugees stating “I don’t like ‘em” over and over again and stating that they despise these people because they are “eating like kings” while living off of our taxes. This racism and opposition towards these refugees continue throughout the film in the interviews with most of the white Americans. However there are obviously exceptions, notably, I remember at one point one woman who works in a factory with these immigrants who stated: “I don’t see them as refugees I see them as first-class Americans” but this is, unfortunately, the minority sentiment of the white Americans in Rockford. On the other hand, one of the immigrants states “I see America as my big family now” (45min) the polarization noted here continues throughout the entirety of the film. There are also a number of immigrants who are not as accepting and happy with their lives in America, at the conclusion of the film the Buddhist monk states that he often thinks of his home and his family back home, implying that he does not see America as his new family as the other man had.
Throughout this film I noted a number of instances in which the perspectives of the White Americans and Lao Buddhist refugees addressed the assumption of the other, seemingly the director purposefully put the two back to back in order to present them this way. The main opposing perspectives I saw come up a number of times was the idea stated early on by these Americans that have this idea of ‘well we let them come to America so why are we still helping them?’ and the idea that they are taking American money and jobs and welfare. The film includes an immigrant who states “we must work harder and learn faster” because as immigrants they are constantly playing a game of catch up with the white Americans they are ‘competing’ against. These white Americans also continue to state that the refugees are taking their jobs, to which the refugee populations state that the job is offered to everyone to work at this restaurant for ‘3.35’ but it is them who take the job and not the Americans, so they are occupying jobs but are they worth the conditions. Another point I noted on this topic of these immigrants “taking our jobs” is when interviewing a white American factory owner about his choice to employee these refugees he states that they remain focused and on task unlike Americans and therefore produce higher quality goods, making me think is it that they are taking jobs from you or are they taking the jobs you lost. I think that this film did a really good job of addressing many of the opposition sentiments in Rockford Illinois but was common in other places as well at this point against refugees.
Nice job! How does this relate to today?
I thought it was interesting how the documentary shows how the Laotian population takes jobs that were often not taken by the white Americans and how it contrasts the way white Americans talk about the lack of job availability. This seems to be an issue that pervades today with how people often blame immigrants for ‘taking jobs’ when more often than not it is companies hiring immigrants with the hoping of paying them less than they would American citizens. I also found it interesting with the interview of the factory owner who found that Laotian workers worked harder than the American ones which implies how companies are partially responsible for this lack of jobs for white Americans. Unfortunately, many of these people do not recognize this problem and would rather blame the Laotian population.
I was quite sad seeing how many of the Laotian refugees did not feel at home in the United States and state how they did not want to go to the U.S. While many immigrants did not come to the U.S. under the same circumstances, there are many who resent it because they needed to come out of financial necessity and they do not enjoy the cultural differences in the U.S. I would argue that part of the reason that the Laotion people find living in the U.S. is the resentment that the white Americans hold toward them. There are many other reasons for not liking living in the U.S. but I can’t help but feel that if the community was more open to the refugees their transition to living in the U.S. would have been easier.
I also noted and saw the repeated cutting in and out of clips that highlighted what the Laotian immigrants were saying versus what the white Americans were saying. The stark contrast that was brought when comparing what these two groups of people were saying showed the blatant and obvious dislike towards immigrants in general. What I also saw was that the younger people seemed to be more accepting of the immigrants, much like the ideas that I feel like younger generations have today.