Last month YDS's New York chapter held a free screening of La Americana (trailer at www.la-americana.com). Held in the progressive St. Mary's Church in Harlem, attendance reached about 40 people who braved the chilling temperature outside as well as inside the church (which is, after all, over 100 years old!).
The documentary is about a Bolivian woman who journeys to New York City for work in order to support her ailing daughter, then years later faces a difficult decision about whether to return home in time for her daughter's quinceanera, as promised, or to stay in New York to work and support her health care. Her personal story is set against the current immigration crisis in the US. The struggles she overcomes and the courage she demonstrates in order to support her family conflicts with the interspersed clips of pundits and news reporters describing immigrants as selfish, lazy, and dangerous.
In one poignant scene under the Statue of Liberty, she reads Emma Lazarus' famous poem written on a tablet besides the monument, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." and then shakes her head, calling it a lie. She questions what it means to be an American, emphasizing that everyone in the Americas is "American".
This documentary couldn't have come at a more important time. As anti-immigration fervor swells with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids on immigrant communities, vigilante groups patrolling the border with guns, and politicians and pundits trying to outdo each other in their anti-immigration rhetoric, an open and frank discussion about what really brings immigrants to this country and what their day-to-day experience entails is sorely needed.
After the film, we convened in the church basement to talk with the filmmakers (Nicholas Bruckman, John Mattiuzzi, and Jesse Thomas) over snacks. They discussed the difficulties of filming a documentary about someone who is undocumented and afraid of deportation. Especially hard, they said, were the times where they had the opportunity to help the protagonist but the responsibilities of making the documentary required their restraint. The filmmakers also refrained when asked about their opinions on certain politics and solutions. They said that they purposefully left out a clear political voice, instead preferring to have the voice of the protagonista dominate the movie; as it is the immigrants' voices themselves that are the least heard.
While it was a far trek for some and uncomfortable sitting in a freezing church, the harrowing story told on screen was well worth it. Check the film website ( www.la-americana.com) for future screenings. The filmmakers expressed interest in future screenings with YDS chapters, so if you'd like to organize something, contact the YDS national organizer at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help you get in touch.
David Yap is a member of the NYC Chapter of YDS