Self-Deportation tells the story of an Asian American woman in Chicago who is accosted one evening by a group of subway passengers. They sneer and snap at her, demanding that she “go back to where you came from.” The woman, effectively banished from the community, embarks on a farewell tour of "Real America." This fantastical journey takes her through a series of dreamlike environments where she bids farewell to various American archetypes: a fast-talking politician, an All-American quarterback, a middle-class family, etc. Finally, the woman climbs inside a shipping crate and mails herself home. This act of "self-deportation" ends with the arrival of the crate at the woman's home and birthplace: New Jersey.
This film is, in part, a response to the debate surrounding immigration in this country, which has often taken a blatantly racist and xenophobic tone. Several politicians have proposed “self-deportation” as a way to combat the problem of illegal immigration, and there is growing support for laws that allow police to stop anyone who does not appear to be a U.S. citizen. This approach to immigration reveals a deeply flawed view of America and “Americanness,” one in which a person’s status as belonging or not can be assessed simply by looking at their face, the color of their skin, or some other physical marker.
Instead of tackling these issues in a straightforward documentary or conventional narrative, Self-Deportation attempts a more artful and visually based approach. There is practically no dialogue in the film. Emotions and narrative beats emerge entirely through the actors’ physical bodies and expressions. The film also raises questions about self-identity, particularly with respect to Asian Americans, who often find themselves viewed as “strangers from another shore,” and never as full-fledged Americans.