THE QUILTED CONSCIENCE is a 60-minute film showing the beautiful and important story of a group of sixteen Sudanese-American girls – refugees from the genocide in their troubled homeland – who are thrust into a new life in the town of Grand Island, Nebraska; of a quilter’s guild of local white women, some of whom have had little previous contact with ethnic or racial minorities; and of a famed African-American quilt-maker who travels a thousand miles to help “stitch” the two groups together by means of a “culture-blend” fabric-art project: the making of a beautiful wall-size mural, composed of dozens of dramatic story-panels created by the Sudanese girls with the help of the local women.
The subjects of the students’ quilt panels are Dreams & Memories – showing the girls’ memories of Africa and their dreams of America. The Memories are cultural memories, answering the question “What is unique in who I am and in where I come from?” These images honor the traditions and heritage of the students’ families and communities back in Sudan, showing what is best and most special to them in their African pasts. The Dreams are personal dreams of each student – some of them answering the question “Who and what do I want to be in life?” These images show the wonderful things that the girls will do in their American futures, with some students also creating “dream images” that offer a glimpse into their inner worlds and night-dreams, with subject matter ranging from hopes of being nurses and doctors to careers as lawyers or judges – and, in one impressive case, even of becoming a professional female football player.
This film is a celebration of African culture in the middle of archetypal white America. Along the way, it shares the inspiring message of hometown hero Grace Abbott, who was born and raised in the Sudanese students’ new community of Grand Island. Grace Abbott was an extraordinary leader in the struggles for America’s children and immigrants who, as Director of the Immigrants’ Protective League (1908-1921) and Chief of the U.S. Children’s Bureau (1921-1934), is credited with saving thousands of children’s and immigrants’ lives and improving those of millions more, and is specially remembered for her famous quote, “Justice for all children is the high ideal in a democracy” – which serves as the credo for our film.
The common ground of our story is the creation of the “culture-blend” story-quilt by the Sudanese-American girls of the Nuer, Nuba and Dinka tribes under the guidance of acclaimed fabric-artist Peggie Hartwell, a founding member of the Women of Color Quilters Network. The girls use the American story-quilt form, a tradition of their new country, to share the tribal stories and customs of their families’ old homeland with their Nebraska neighbors. As the story unfolds, we also share home visits (and many unexpected experiences and discussions) with both the students and their devoted mentors.
The film culminates in a major public event held at Grand Island’s newly reopened Abbott Library: the unveiling of the completed story-quilt as part of a celebration of Sudanese culture held on the annual Nebraska state holiday, Abbott Sisters Day. This event interweaves stories and cultures, showing how the “Living Legacy” of Grace Abbott is guiding these Sudanese children today to become the embodiment of the high ideals that Abbott herself fought so bravely to uphold and fulfill.