The news staff at Qatar-based international news agency Al Jazeera, many of whom are American, were probably not really new to Staten Island. But the overriding emotion in this Al Jazeera documentary, which follows Liberian migrant Joseph Blamo from Liberia across the Sahara and African smuggling routes to his new home in Staten Island, is one of discovery. Al Jazeera documents the island, the least populated of New York City's five boroughs, from the eyes of someone who has never before seen America.
Al Jazeera's Casey Kauffman, himself American, begins the story in 2008 with Blamo's journey through the Saharan human smuggling route to Algeria. Later, Kauffman documents what Blamo sees as his incredible good luck in being randomly selected for a green card to work in the U.S. "After much celebration and high hopes for the future, Joseph left for New York. But alone and unemployed in a huge metropolis, he feels the pressure of his family’s poverty back home in Liberia and is burdened by the expectation of success."
America's high cost of living, the crushing debt incurred while looking for work, and his family's reliance on him for remittances all make Blamo's life in Staten Island short on the American dream and high on stress and disappointment. Al Jazeera's outsider journey in America ends when Blamo leaves New York for Erie, Pennsylvania, which Kauffman calls "a place where jobs are disappearing."
Though he does not yet understand the difficult job market in Erie, Blamo visits a large Fourth of July picnic. He says of the sunny park grounds where he enjoys BBQ side-by-side with American families, "It's beautiful. It looks like paradise. The city streets are well laid out. Good cars. Getting to this place is one of the greatest steps I've made in my life. I feel much better. I feel proud of myself."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.