Mogadishu Goes Tennessee

The Tennessee town of Shelbyville has become a new center for Somalian refugees. A new documentary looks at what the influx of this group has meant to the city and its people.
May 25, 2011, 11am PDT | Nate Berg
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The documentary explores how this stigmatized group integrated itself into a small rural area.

"When significant numbers of Somali refugees moved to Shelbyville, Tenn., (population 16,000) to work at the nearby Tyson Foods processing plant, the town's residents reacted with deep suspicion. "We don't know what diseases they have," a former mayor frets in the opening minutes of the new documentary film Welcome to Shelbyville. Intensifying his fear is the fact the newcomers are Muslims, which in his view means: "They want to kill us."

That lack of political correctness makes Shelbyville an ideal setting for a film about immigration and assimilation. When a feisty black resident named Beverly Hewitt visits the home of a Somali immigrant family, she minces no words, informing them, "Most folks think you're plum mean," and asking, "You're not terrorists, right?" In Shelbyville, unspoken fears get spoken and sometimes even assuaged."

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Published on Sunday, May 22, 2011 in Miller-McCune
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