At the California Association for Bilingual Educator's Statewide Conference in 2011 and 2012, Paper Words was screened for an audience comprised mostly of teachers, Spanish speaking parents, and young students. The film was well received, generating a lively post-screening discussion. Through translators at the discussions, parents of ESL students lamented the struggles their children still faced in the public school system. Bilingual education teachers shared anecdotes that revealed challenges their colleagues faced in teaching increasingly diverse classrooms. The exchange of ideas and stories confirmed at least one point; as a nation, we have not fully resolved how to meet all the needs of English-Learners in the classroom.
Paper Words offers a window into the world of an ESL student, touching upon difficult issues such as social isolation, cultural assimilation, resource availability, teacher preparedness, cultural assumptions, and teaching modalities. The story of Mei in Paper Words portrays a singular experience with universal relevance; it is a story that encourages discourse.
For some viewers, Paper Words has an empowering effect. As filmmaker Lee noticed, "It surprises me how often I hear the words 'that's my story.' At every screening, people share similar tales. Sometimes, people get strong emotional reactions; I've seen both women and men tear up. At one recent screening in a community college classroom, the instructor informed me after class that Paper Words inspired participation from the silent ones in the room, the students who never voluntarily speak up. It seemed to have struck a chord. As an immigrant, I understand all too well what it means to feel isolated, to be snubbed by others for what you don't know instead of valued for the knowledge you have. I think most people can relate to feeling unacknowledged and undervalued at some point in their lives. That's one of the reasons I made Paper Words. I wanted to show that although someone doesn't speak English, it doesn't mean that they are less of a person. In fact, they may have a skill or an aptitude that isn't obvious. This may be the reason people feel the strong need to speak up and tell their story after they watch the film, because they feel empowered by what they've seen onscreen."
For undergraduates who wish to enter the education field, Paper Words offers budding teachers a classroom scenario to examine, dissect, and learn from. This short film also inspires "out of the box" thinking and creative solutions for bridging cultural and communication gaps.