Their first night in a strange land offers an eye-opening look at the immigrant experience
In 2006, Andrea Meller and Marissa Pearl learned of a hotel near New York City that serves as the first stop in America for refugees before they make their eventual way to homes all over the country. Aside from the airport and immigrations, the accommodations offer them their first look at life in America. They come from all over the world, many unable to speak even a word of English. Suddenly, their immigration becomes a reality when they set foot into that hotel lobby.
Five years later, during the Middle East’s refugee crisis in 2011, the two decided to document the numerous immigrants passing through the hotel, carrying with them a mix of grief, hope, excitement, and exhaustion.
Thus was born the idea for Hotel U.S.A., a short documentary revealing the harrowing first nights experienced by so many on their way to new lives.
The filming took place over six days with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration, an organization which seeks to assist with the difficult transition every refugee faces.
While the film is just now widely available to audiences, it’s been six years since filming took place, and the nervous men, women, girls, and boys have all established themselves in their new country, though the experience has been unique for every one of them.
In a recent The New York Times op-ed piece, the two filmmakers touched on their observations during that six-day shoot. They recall, “While the adults clearly struggled under the weight of losing one way of life and previewing the one to come, their children lived the day like any other (or maybe a more exciting one).”
The documentary reminds us of the many aspects, uncertainties, and hardships that refugee face on their way to a better life. They’re likely aware of many of these obstacles prior to emigrating, but are ultimately left with no choice but to leave. Hotel U.S.A. offers just one look at the courage and difficulty these people face to carry on with their lives in the face of so much hardship.
Many are praising the documentary, as limited in scope and run time as it is, for shining a light on an experience many may take for granted or never consider.