Indocumentales hosted a screening of Gregory Nava’s El Norte on Tuesday, August 9th at 92YTribeca. El Norte, first presented in 1983, is about two siblings, Rosa and Enrique who migrate from Guatemala to the United States after their father is killed and their mother is taken away by their government.
Though their story is fiction, their journey is filled with hope and many struggles not unlike 40,000 Guatemalan refugees. After the screening, Shamina de Gonzaga, co-founder of Indocumentales moderated a discussion with panelists Mary Jo Toll of Sisters of Notre Dame at the United Nations and Carlos Gutiérrez, co-founder of Cinema Tropical on how things have and have not changed for migrants in the 28 years since this film was released.
Mary Jo relayed to the audience that through her work she has learned that things have not changed very much for migrants. Many South and Central Americans still face racism in Mexico and the US and people are still fleeing their countries due to human rights issues but due to the current US situation on immigration it is very hard to gain asylum. She noted that the anti-immigrant sentiment in the US and elsewhere is in great part fueled by well-financed propaganda misinforming people about the reality of migrants’ contributions in their countries of destination. She expressed the importance of migrants to the US economy, not only do migrants take on jobs that are extremely strenuous but there are a substantial number that create small businesses in the US. She reported that many work in horrible conditions and live in fear of other co-workers who threaten to report them to Immigration. Unfortunately, she said many politicians are unaware of the conditions of labor camps. She also briefly discussed the US’ fickle policy toward immigration throughout history. A once porous border, which allowed migrant workers to come to the US to work and then return home is no longer possible now that the border has been militarized.
Carlos discussed the many ways media has handled the immigrant experience. Today there are many documentaries about the migrants who travel from South and Central America. Carlos addressed how migrants are consistently portrayed as victims even to this day – and how El Norte, despite presenting a favorable image of the characters’ indigenous culture in Guatemala, subsequently presents them in a patronizing light later on in the film – what is lacking are films that present the migrants with equal empowerment and dignity. Carlos also mentioned the recent fictional film Sin Nombre which has a similar story line but is a much brutal version to El Norte‘s magic realism. Carlos said crossing is much more dangerous now as migrants are either kidnapped and/or killed by drug cartels.
Participants questioned what services could be made available to aid families that have been separated due to deportation of one family member and noted that existing governmental services are already overstretched and in some instances the involvement of the authorities can be more harmful than helpful.