The National Day Laborer Organizing Network, a broad coalition of immigration activists, has teamed up with indie film director Alex Rivera (Sleep Dealer) to use the power of culture, specifically film and music in the form of music videos, to highlight the dire need for immigration reform. Earlier this year LatinoBuzz spoke to Rivera about making political films and his interest in the border. We share his answers here.
LatinoBuzz: Alex, you are not Mexican. Can you talk about why the U.S.-Mexico border has been such an important part of your work?
Rivera: My father is Peruvian, my mom was born in Brooklyn, of Scottish descent. I grew up in something of a "borderland" with icons of Peru around the house in which I watched "Gilligan's Island." But that's not the real reason to be interested in the border, and interested in the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. Anyone who's seriously interested in the future of America - and therefore the future of the world - needs to consider the deep, deep connections between the U.S., Mexico, and Latin America. These are histories that are as intertwined as those of Great Britain and India. Or Palestine and Israel. You can't understand one without the other.
LatinoBuzz: Which came first your interest in politics or becoming a filmmaker? Were your films always political or did you evolve as a filmmaker?
Rivera: For a long time I've worked from the belief that EVERY FILM IS POLITICAL. It's impossible to make a non-political film. Every time you make a decision about theme, location, cast, etc., you're making a decision that puts certain people and certain points-of-view in the center of the frame. And inevitably, you're also pushing other people and themes to the margins. ALWAYS. So the question any thoughtful filmmaker must confront is: who do I want to put in the center? Whose point-of-view do I want to explore?
In his most recent project, through powerful stories, told in music videos and using impassioned songs, Rivera is able to convey what statistics cannot. The intense emotional toll that living life under the constant threat of deportation can take on undocumented immigrants, their families, and entire communities. As the director of both "El Hielo" by the eclectic L.A.-based band La Santa Cecilia and soul singer Aloe Blacc’s acoustic rendition of his hit single "Wake Me Up," Rivera chose real-life day laborers, activists, and family members of deported immigrants as subjects in the music videos. Check out both music videos and their featured cast below.
Aloe Blacc "Wake Me Up"
Margarita Reyes is a Los Angeles actress and producer whose first guest star appearance on prime time was opposite Emmy-award winning actress Alfre Woodard on the television series The Practice. She is currently starring in the film "Combat Ready". Despite being born in the US, Margarita was deported as a child alongside her mother. Much of her work focuses on the issues of Latino and immigrant youth.
Agustin Chiprez Alvarez has been in the US for 18 years. He is a proud father of an infant son and, like in the video, seeks work on Los Angeles day laborer corners to provide for his family. He is a songwriter and first became involved in acting through fellow actor Jose Mangandi at Teatro Jornalero.
La Santa Cecilia "El Hielo (ICE)"
At age 9, Katherine Figueroa, came home from school and turned on the television only to become witness to the arrest of her own parents by Sheriff Arpaio's deputies. She led children’s marches at the capitol, testified in Congress, and successfully organized their temporary release. Her efforts are featured in the full-length documentary, Two Americans.
Erika Andiola is a nationally recognized leader in the undocumented immigrant youth movement. A graduate of Arizona State University, she moved from Mexico to Arizona when she was 11 years old and later became a co-founder of DRM Capitol Group and the Arizona Dream Act Coalition (ADAC). When ICE raided her home and took her mother and older brother, Erika’s case became nationally known when she mobilized hundreds of thousands to stop their deportations.
Maria Arreola (Erika's mom) came to the United States to provide a better life for her children. Saying that they were following-up on a previous traffic stop, ICE agents arrested Maria and her son this past winter. After being detained, she was placed on a bus to be deported to Mexico only to have it turned around as a result of the national outcry organized by her daughter. She was given one year of deferred action but may face deportation orders again in 2014.
Juan Romero is a day laborer who looks for work outside a Los Angeles Home Depot where he meets contractors for temporary home construction jobs. He has been an actor in the community drama troupe, Teatro Jornalero, since 2010. He hasn't seen his wife since he came to the US.
Isaac Barrera is an undocumented immigrant and organizer with the Immigrant Youth Coalition in Los Angeles. Isaac spent two and a half weeks in detention after being purposefully arrested by border patrol in Alabama in order to expose the inhumane treatment of immigrants in detention. His case is still pending.
Written by Vanessa Erazo. LatinoBuzz is a weekly feature on SydneysBuzz that highlights Latino indie talent and upcoming trends in Latino film with the specific objective of presenting a broad range of Latino voices. Follow @LatinoBuzz on Twitter and Facebook.