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The visitor and the host

by Rachel Diaz

The 2008 movie The Visitor follows the life of Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins), a college professor bored with his job and detached from any meaningful human contact. It’s on a work-related trip to New York City that Walter encounters Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), an undocumented Syrian immigrant who has been living in Walter’s vacant city apartment. Quickly thereafter, this reserved professor of economics and this animated Syrian drum player become friends. As the character of Walter unfolds, Tarek encounters immigration troubles and faces imminent deportation from the United States. Throughout the ordeal, Walter is there for him; his friendship is sincere and true. Most striking is the unassuming way Walter helps Tarek, exhibiting compassion without a chest-pounding scene of “look at me, I’m a good person.”

Interestingly enough, The Visitor does not consciously seek to make a political comment on the current immigration situation in the United States; the movie is about personal change, not immigration. However, the catalyst for Walter’s metamorphosis is the life of an immigrant. Thus, The Visitor is about the transformation that can occur when a person connects with someone else and extends a hand of friendship, acknowledging the worth of another’s life, regardless of his or her status—in this case, immigration status. It’s also about reaching out not only for the sake of others, but also with the desire that doing so will change you for the better.

I thoroughly recommend this movie. It’s rated PG-13, and although there are brief instances of course language toward the beginning, I believe these are outweighed by the film’s message, which challenges us to think about the “visitors” around us and—more importantly—about how we might open ourselves up to change as we welcome them into our lives.

This article originally appeared in the fall 2009 issue of In Part magazine.
Rachel Diaz

Rachel Diaz is an immigration attorney in South Florida and the daughter of Cuban immigrants. She and her husband, Hamlet, who was born and raised in Cuba, attend La Roca Firme (Hialeah, Fla.). They are the proud parents of Olivia, a lil’ Cuban-American princess. Rachel is involved in MCC East’s Peace and Justice Immigration program and has served on the BIC General Conference Board since 2005.

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