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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Life + Arts

Documentary sheds light on immigration


The Center for the Americas continues its series on immigration documentaries this week with a showing of the documentary “Tony and Janina’s American Wedding” and a discussion with co-producer Steve Dixon.

The documentary is being screened today in the Honors College Commons in MD Anderson Library. It was screened Monday at the UH Law Center

“This film (and discussion with one of the film’s producers) deals with the immigration issue and a case that got a lot of media and legal attention,” said Professor Susan Kellogg, director of Latin American Studies Program at UH.

The documentary is a full-length feature that explores the bureaucracy that is the US immigration system by following the struggle of Tony and Janina Wasilewski — a Polish couple and their efforts to reunite after being separated because of Janina’s deportation.

“(The film) is a unique portrait of a family facing deportation, in particular dealing with 212(a)9(b), the 10-year bar,”

In his Director’s Statement, Dixon said that when he met the Wasilewskis, it was essentially “the worst day of their lives.”

“Janina had just found out that her stay of deportation had been denied,” Dixon said. “She was going to have to leave her partner of 15 years within the next 48 hours.”

The Wasilewskis’ story had “taken a hold of my heart,” he said, “and would not let go.” He kept asking himself why the couple was clinging to this country, even when their family was being torn apart — thus began the search for answers and the enormous project of creating the documentary.

The film, which begins just before the 2008 election cycle, is significant as a commentary on the current state of immigration. An added political dimension to the narrative is the fact that the Wasilewskis are from Chicago, where then-Senator Barack Obama cut his teeth in his political career. Coincidentally, their narrative corresponds with his ascendency to the Oval Office.

Both Tony and Janina arrived legally from Poland, and Tony eventually successfully applied for a U.S. citizenship. Once an active anti-Communist in Poland, Janina followed another trajectory and opted for political refugee status. Her initial efforts were not successful and led to her eventual deportation.

After many months of legal battles — and with the help of their attorney Royal Berg, Representatives Luis Gutierrez, Mike Quigley, and Zoe Lofgren, as well as Senator Dick Durbin — Janina and her son Brian were finally able to return to Chicago.

Dixon said that the success of the Wasilewskis’ story takes on greater significance and adds greater power to the message of the documentary.

These screenings of “Tony and Janina’s American Wedding” are sponsored by the Center for the Americas and the Latin American Studies Program at UH, and will be showing at 2:30 p.m. today in the Honors College Commons.

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