Welcome to Shelbyville

The Princeton Public Library sometimes serves food – but I don’t remember ever being invited to the library for a potluck supper. On Thursday, May 19, at 6 p.m. the library hosts a potluck to introduce Welcome to Shelbyville, a film about a potluck supper held in a small Tennessee town. The library’s Janie Hermann tells about this last-minute addition to the calendar as follows:

”The library was approached late last week by Anastasia (Stacy) Mann and the Princeton Human Services Commission to host a screening in mid-May of the new film Welcome to Shelbyville prior to its national release on PBS on May 24. We had precisely one date open on our calendar and after a quick flurry of exchanges between Friday and late today we were able to secure Kim Snyder, the maker of the film, to come to our event. This is very exciting!”

The event will start at 6 pm with a potluck sharing of appetizers and desserts, then screening of the film at 6:30 and be followed by a moderated discussion led by Kim Snyder and Stacy Mann. Co-sponsors include the Rutgers-Eagleton Program on Immigration and Democracy, the Princeton Borough Department of Human Services, and Not in Our Town Princeton, the interracial, interfaith social action group that is committed to speak truth about ‘everyday racism’ and other forms of prejudice and discrimination

Welcome to Shelbyville is billed as “a rare, inside look at America at a crossroads. In a small Tennessee town in the heart of the Bible Belt, a community grapples with rapidly changing demographics. Just a stone’s throw away from Pulaski, Tennessee (the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan), Shelbyville’s longtime African American and white residents are challenged with how best to integrate with a burgeoning Latino population and the more recent arrival of hundreds of Somali refugees of Muslim faith. Set on the eve of the 2008 Presidential election, the film captures the interaction between Shelbyville’s old and new residents as they search for a way to live together during that tumultuous, history-changing year.”

Why a potluck? It is integral to the film’s message, as this clip reveals.

Set in 2008, when the economy is in crisis, the film aims to explore “the interplay between race, religion, and identity” and to portray “a community’s struggle to understand what it means to be American.” (Shown in photo: ESL students reciting the Pledge of Allegiance).

“In Shelbyville, the Tyson chicken plant is hiring hundreds of new Somali refugees, and when a local reporter initiates a series of articles about the newcomers, a flurry of controversy and debate erupts within the town.”

“Just as the Latino population grapples with their own immigrant identity, African American residents look back at their segregated past and balance perceived threats to their livelihood and security against the values that they learned through their own long struggle for civil rights. As the newcomers — mostly of Muslim faith — attempt to make new lives for themselves and their children, leaders in this deeply religious community attempt to guide their congregations through this period of unprecedented change.”

We here in Princeton might be tempted to think that Shelbyville is just a podunk town. It is indeed cheek by jowl with the home of the Ku Klux Klan, but it’s more than just a crossroads with a chicken factory and a WalMart, and this is not its only brush with fame. It is the home of the Tennessee Walking Horse festival and was the subject of the country song and video, “Famous in a Small Town.”

Perhaps we might just be able to learn something from the folks in Tennessee.

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