Gabrielle Ewing, a 2015 graduate of the Tisch Film and Television program, is drawing attention in her new documentary to a common yet unrecognized narrative within New York City: undocumented Irish immigrants.
Ewing’s documentary, called “A Hearth of Our Own,” tells the story of Jacob, whose name has been changed for the film to protect his privacy. Forced out of Ireland after the economic collapse of 2008, Jacob is one of the 50,000 undocumented Irish immigrants living in the United States. Despite making a decent living as a bartender in New York with dreams of opening his own establishment, deportation threatens Jacob’s new life unless he can marry an American woman in order to gain citizenship.
When Ewing learned about the secret lives of bartenders, she was beyond surprised.
“One day [my boyfriend] very plainly mentioned to me that pretty much every Irish bartender you’ll meet in New York City is probably undocumented,” Ewing said. “I honestly thought he was kidding. I did a little bit of research and was floored about how difficult it was to find any information on the subject.”
Ewing went on to say that the issue is underreported because the Irish don’t fit the stereotypical perception of undocumented immigrants.
“As someone frankly put it once to me right around when the Arizona immigration laws were a hot topic: you’re never going to go up to an Australian person or a British person or an Irish person and ask for their green card,” Ewing said. “I was kind of embarrassed that I never thought about this topic from this angle before. The Irish are such an integral part of NYC and for most Irish bartenders to be undocumented flips the entire immigration debate on its head.”
The documentary, though brief at approximately 23 minutes, is highly informative and eye opening. It offers emotional glimpses into Irish life and culture and hard facts about immigration, all while humanizing the plight of illegal immigrants through compassionately telling Jacob’s story.
“My hope for the film is for it to not only educate people, but to also expose people’s double standards for immigration policy,” Ewing said. “I want people to be conflicted with themselves about this issue and to realize that it’s not black and white. Immigration isn’t going to be fixed overnight, but telling stories like these, I think, helps to expose to not only how complicated it is but also to remind people that this isn’t just some abstract political issue, it changes people’s lives.”
“A Hearth of Our Own” recently won the Audience Honorable Mention Award from the Chicago Irish Film Festival. The documentary also screened at the Chelsea Bow Tie Theater as a part of the Socially Relevant Film Festival on March 17.
Email Daria Butler at [email protected]