Friday, February 26, 2021

At the Movies: Alien Terminology and Change the Subject, a 2019 Documentary


The terminology of immigration law has been on my mind this week.  A piece that I did on The Conversation has spurred some commentary, from claims that I am advocating "open borders" (I have argued for more liberal admissions elsewhere) to engaging in Orwellian speak (actually, I think that "alien" is the Orwellian term)  to endorsing crime, poverty, and "slave"" labor. 

In writing the piece, I did not know about a film on immigration terminology.  Change the Subject (2019) is a 54-minute documentary film about a group of Dartmouth students who challenged anti-immigrant language in the Library of Congress subject headings. 

Charlotte Albright for the Dartmouth News describes the student activism that was the subject of the film:

"Nearly five years ago, a group of Dartmouth students, working with Dartmouth librarians, started waging a daunting battle at the highest levels of government—and almost won.

Outraged by the fact that the Library of Congress uses the phrase `illegal aliens' to describe works about noncitizens who have entered the United States without authorization, they petitioned the LOC to replace the subject heading. Their activism grabbed headlines and spurred speech-making in Congress, but, ensnared in a political debate, the controversial heading has still not been changed."

Change the Subject tells the story of the Dartmouth students who challenged anti-immigrant language in the Library of Congress subject headings. Their advocacy took them to the halls of Congress, showing how an instance of campus activism entered the national spotlight, and how a cataloging term became a flashpoint in the immigration debate on Capitol Hill. In partnership with staff at Dartmouth, these students – now alumni – produced a film to document this story.  

I heard about the film from Elizabeth Webster, who dropped me an e-mail about my piece in The Conversation.  Elizabeth is a teacher at Warren Township High School in Gurnee, Illinois, north of Chicago.  She wrote that "[o]ne of our alums, Mr. Oscar Ruben Cornejo Casares, went to Dartmouth after leaving Warren and helped make the 2019 documentary film Changing the Subject."

The Dartmouth Library provides free streaming access to Change the Subject (2019), and to a digital collection of materials related to the original action and to the production of the film.


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