On June 17th, another Dollar Bank Cinema in the Park event at Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park was a success. Despite the threat of rain, the hill overlooking Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning was filled with families, college students, and dogs to watch a film from the Spark! Film Series that highlights diverse cultural movies. Following a guitar duo performance, The Refugees of Shangri-La captivated the audience through stories of refugees living in the United States today. Although only 56 minutes in length, the documentary covers years of waiting and adjustment for many lives. In 2008, after spending twenty years in refugee camps in Nepal, exiled Bhutanese started to move to America and other countries across the world to begin new lives.


Discussing how the punishment for not leaving Bhutan is death in The Refugees of Shangri-La Documentary

Bhutan is a small country situated between China and India and a neighbor to Nepal. A majority of the refugees are from an ethnic group in Bhutan referred to as Lhotshampa, “southern dwellers,” whose ancestors are originally from Nepal. They serve as a threat to the ruling elite and therefore forced to leave the country. The documentary follows just a few of the 60,000 Bhutanese refugees, from the Nepal refugee camps to their arrival and settlement in America.

After spending decades in refugee camps, it seems a relief to be in a country where their religious beliefs can be freely and non-consequentially practiced. However, it still is not home for the Bhutanese. They had to abandon their hope of returning to their homeland in Bhutan, as well as say goodbye to the familiarity of the refugee camp. There are many necessary adjustments to live in this foreign country, including learning English. For the elders, it may never feel comfortable; they will continue to yearn for the return to their own country of Bhutan. Yet the families express that the move to America is for their children to have better futures. Again and again, the movie demonstrates the refugees’ optimism, resiliency, and respectfulness.

Bhutan is commonly referred to as one of the happiest countries in the world according to a Gross National Happiness statistic. However, this documentary personifies the inaccuracy of this statement. The refugees were a part of an ethnic cleansing and it is important to watch The Refugees of Shangri-La to educate oneself about the true state of Bhutan.

Children of Shangri-Lost team members in Pittsburgh

In Pittsburgh, there is a youth group called the Children of Shangri-Lost comprised of Bhutanese children born in the refugee camps of Nepal. They aim to educate and raise awareness of struggles faced by refugees, especially those in the Bhutanese community. They call Pittsburgh their home but stress the importance of maintaining Bhutanese culture.

The United States is known as the Melting Pot, however in order for us to live up to that label, we need to fully embrace the cultural differences between us. This documentary was as informative as it was moving, and it was encouraging to see the large amount of people who attended the screening. These refugees are Americans in the truest sense: a people in search of a home where they can celebrate their heritage while simultaneously contributing to the developing culture around them. Given the tenacity and optimism they embody, I am confident that they will find the happiness they were denied in Bhutan here in their new home.

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