For executive producer Sian Heder, the project comes with its own intimate connections to her life. The former “Orange Is the New Black” writer’s father came to the U.S. to flee the Hungarian revolution. Her Welsh mother came as an art student.
“I grew up never taking this country for granted,” she said. “Both my parents came here for very different reasons… both are completely valid in a number of ways and I think somehow we’ve lost sight of the fact that this is a country that people come here to seek a new life for themselves – whatever that life may be.”
Exec producer Lee Eisenberg, whose father emigrated to the United States from Israel, says the idea for the anthology series came from his own desire to see a show of this type on a major platform. He then enlisted the help of Epic Magazine’s Joshuah Bearman, Joshua Davis and Arthur Spector, who created a team to interview, research and choose the stories for the program.
Eisenberg also acknowledged the importance of creating the series in today’s political climate: “I think we’re living in a hard time and I think that telling stories like this, it reminds us that we’re not that different. The way that we talk about immigrants so often in the press, it feels like a cluster of people are invading our country and I think when you start putting names to the faces…I think that it becomes more personal and when you start seeing yourself in someone else, that really changes the narrative.”
As the show reflects the real lives of everyday people, new stories can come from anywhere. Eisenberg mentioned director Tze Chun, who helmed the seventh episode of the first season and shared his mother’s immigration story, which came to be reflected in the first season.
“Everyone has a story and it doesn’t matter what someone looks like. Everyone wants to fall in love. Everyone wants to get a better job, everyone wants to find a better home for their family,” Eisenberg said.
That same level of authenticity trickles all the way down to the show’s casting choices, which included finding actors with similar backgrounds to the characters in the series.
“We had really great casting people. All of us were on the same page that we don’t want to just rely on the same people that are always cast in things, who are doing an accent that’s not their own, or that are learning a language phonetically,” Gordon said. “As much as possible, we wanted the actors to speak the language that their character speaks, we wanted them to have a connection to the story and that meant we had to cast our net a little wider sometimes.”
Quickly following its Apple TV Plus premiere on Jan. 17, the series was renewed for a second season. “We wanted to put forward very human stories in a very intimate way told with empathy, so people could really start to realize that we’re not speaking for immigrants in general. We are trying to tell the story of one person’s experience with coming to this country. And hopefully through that, we’re sort of humanizing a people who’ve become a bit dehumanized in the current climate,” Heder said. “This show is a love letter to the best ideals of America.”