Mayor Robert Palmieri asks a refugee if things are ok in his neighborhood.

Anthony Picente, County Executive

Anthony Picente says he’s about as “Oneida County as it gets.” Maybe that’s why he ran for County Executive, an office he’s held since 2006. He’s a republican, and a good example of the bipartisan support for refugees common in the area. Picente grew up in an Italian family in Utica, surrounded by relatives speaking their native language, living right next door to a Polish family doing the same. The Utica of his youth was a bigger city than it is now, and one of his goals as county executive is to grow the population. He’s happy to have more refugees, and tells critics their positive contribution is greater than any burden. But he knows resettlement is about more than numbers: “This is what we are,” he told us. “We are in the business of helping people and we are in the business of welcoming people. And this community has always been that melting pot.” Every day Picente sees first-hand what refugees bring to the area. He’s hired as his assistant a young Bosnian woman, Mahira Patkovich, who is pursuing a master’s degree while running her own small business.

John Zogby

John Zogby is a household name in the polling world. He grew up in Utica, where he was born to Lebanese immigrants. He now runs multiple polling businesses, has written books on everything from the demographics of Arab Americans to the millennial generation, and has even been a guest on The Daily Show. For Zogby, polls aren't just numbers, they're personal. He works closely with The Refugee Center in Utica and provides helpful data and information so that they can make the right decisions and have a positive impact his home town. For the film, John is our historian and expert on all things local. He's been a source of encouragement throughout.

Paul Hagstrom

A professor at Hamilton College, Paul’s research into Utica’s refugee population is a big part of why we chose the city as the central topic for our documentary. The groundbreaking revelations from his first study were enough to get us excited about what we’d see. After all, how nice is it for a filmmaker to have a big data perspective to bear out the stories they’re aiming to tell? And then he revealed that he was planning a second study to be conducted within our production schedule. We were able to document some of his research, and to witness firsthand his students polling refugees. It’s exactly the sort of analysis that he and others bring to the table that helps Utica be successful at resettlement. Finally, we’ve been on hand as he conveys his findings to interested parties, like the staff of the Refugee Center.

Pastor Paul Schilling

There are two Redeemer Churches in Utica and Paul was the longtime Pastor of the bigger, fancier one, the one on the other side of the railroad tracks, the one where most parishioners speak English. When he moved over to the smaller Redeemer Church, right in the center of Utica, he thought it was a temporary move. But he quickly fell in love with the largely Asian congregation. He has learned to cook Vietnamese and Burmese dishes, organizes fun nights for his teenagers, and his eyes regularly brim with tears when he speaks of his flock. Services are conducted in multiple languages. Paul and the Redeemer Church team are also responsible for organizing and hosting the Redeemer Cup, in which soccer teams representing each of the city’s refugee groups face off in a hotly contested tournament. With all this, Paul is emblematic of the profoundly welcoming community that is Utica.

Mayor Robert Palmieri

For a time it seemed like the US was in a place where the favored measure of a politician was whether they’d be a good person to have a beer with or not. With those qualifications Mayor Palmieri would be a lock for Senator, maybe even run for President someday. So yeah, we’re hoping we have a beer together after the film first screens in Utica. We have a feeling he won’t care too much about how he comes off in the film. He’s focused on his town. A prime example being the “quality of life sweeps” he conducts, walking through neighborhoods to identify problems and fix as many as possible right then and there. His concern is for Utica at large. As one of the best salesmen around for his town, he’ll want to be sure we tell the right stories, shoot the right things. He’ll want more of his constituents to stay put, more refugees to migrate to Utica if they’re not happy where they are, more people having fun, more workers, more diversity, more ethnic cuisine…all that.


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