Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. We're back now with more of The Takeaway. A new animated documentary expresses the lived experiences of undocumented immigrants and their families here in the US. Home is Somewhere Else. Premiered at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival yesterday. The movie tells three stories, each with a distinct animation style, guided by a poetic narrator who calls himself El Deportee. We're introduced to an 11-year-old who turns to activism after the detention of her undocumented father.
Jasmine: If we were all undocumented, I really couldn't really say anything, but since I am a US citizen, I can say something, and I can defend myself and my family.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We also meet two sisters living on either side of the border. Their undocumented status makes it impossible for them to see one another.
Female Speaker 2: I feel like ever since I went to the US, I've always wanted to come back.
Female Speaker 3: Yes, for me it just feels like I'm stuck here, and I can't go back to Mexico and see Ranma because that means I will have to cross the border again.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Our narrator shares his own experiences with the US immigration system. The hour--and a-half-long feature was co-directed by Carlos Hagerman and Jorge Villalobos. Carlos sat down with me to talk about the immigrants who inspired the film.
Carlos Hagerman: When we were starting to imagine this film, we were always thinking of the millions of families that today, in the world, have moved to try to find different future for themselves, and they are growing up, living in different countries. Especially not being from that country themselves, they are growing up in a different context, and how urgent it is for these societies to have empathy for these families. I think that this is a worldwide situation although the film is centered on the Mexico-US relationship with this subject matter.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Tell me about the decision to use animation for this project.
Carlos Hagerman: My co-director, Jorge, and I, we've been working for 10 years on an animation studio that has centered in creating pertinent content for educational purposes for children, and also for a kind of social justice. We have been working a lot on human rights issues. We thought that doing a documentary for young audiences, if we used animation, it would be much more attractive for them to get the experience of how does it feel to live in a family that has undocumented family members.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm wondering if the animation, in part, makes the hardest parts seem less scar,y or maybe just gives, you've talked about empathy here, right, sort of an entry point for young audiences?
Carlos Hagerman: It is an entry point for young audiences, but it's also like using the animation as a metaphor, which is very important for us. When you are thinking about young protagonists and their view of the world, you might think, for instance, they are scared of things, and they have dreams for the future. If you just see, in a regular documentary, a child, or a teenager, or even a young adult talk about these things, you're just watching something that is in their minds, but you cannot actually see it. In animation, we go with them like in an intimate travel with the poetic animated sequences that can actually make you feel this fear or these dreams for the future.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk to me about how you chose the three stories.
Carlos Hagerman: My co-director and partner, Jorge, was living, at the time, in Miami, Florida. This was the time where Trump's administration was starting. There was a lot of news and articles around how children were very scared of what was happening, children that were part of undocumented families. Even though they may have been US citizens themselves, they were very scared of what could happen to their families. Jorge was thinking that we should do something about these children and how they were feeling. That was one of the seeds, and that's how we met Jasmine, which is the young girl that tells the first story.
For my part, 12 years ago, I directed and produced a documentary called Los que se quedan, Those Who Remain, that was about the families that stay behind in Mexico. Also dealing with migration, more into the emotional cost of migration in Mexico. One of the families at the end of the film leaves its hometown and goes to an uncertain future in the US. For this, Home is Somewhere Else, I got in contact with them again. The two little girls that I knew the 9-year-old and 10-year-old had grown up to be 20-something young adults that wanted to tell me their story now about how they had felt these last 10 years living in the US.
That was another seed of the film. The third story is the story of a young boy that went to live in Utah with his parents, undocumented when he was eight years old and had a beautiful childhood and felt very home in the countryside. Then when he was 23, he was deported back to Mexico. We go through all this process with him and how he felt. We can see also how his childhood was in contrast of the process of being deported.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I'm wondering about how you're imagining teachers being able to make use of this as a learning tool.
Carlos Hagerman: This is our dream. When we set up to do this film, we always thought, "How can we be effective on this empathy towards immigrant families?" Since I had the previous experience of the documentary, Those Who Remain, I thought let's do it so that we can target schools that might want to talk about migration in another level. Not discussing about how the system works or being very unpersonal and very objective, talking about statistics and talking about numbers, but how do we bring a human experience of family fear and dreams for the future?
Then we thought if we do this and we can target high schools, then young teenagers that are themselves trying to create a social identity, if they can relate to what these protagonists are feeling, then they could be adults that could see the reality in a very different way. They could also look around in their classrooms for immigrants that can be sitting in the same classroom, side to side to them, and look at them in a completely different way.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Carlos Hagerman, co-director and producer of Home is Somewhere Else. Thank you for joining us.
Carlos Hagerman: Thank you, Melissa. It's been a pleasure being with you.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The final story is the personal experience of the film's narrator, José Eduardo Aguilar, who introduces his story with poetry.
José Eduardo Aguilar: I was raised deep in the Utah mountains where the Provo River flows like my lingo breaking code-switching standards, where the Wasatch pine tree was my shelter because I grew up brown, Mormon town, and I reeked of Cibeles.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Shifting between English and Spanish, Aguilar explains the emotional toll of cleaning out his father's apartment after his father was deported, and the feeling of his own detention and eventual deportation as his mother came just short of his $15,000 bail. Aguilar eventually calls himself El Deportee to break from the stigma he hears in the word deportado.
José Eduardo Aguilar: I've been working on a documentary that has to do with return migration and deportation of childhood arrivals to the US. I was in a film festival, and that's where I met Carlos, one of the directors. He was interested in some of the things that I was saying regarding deportation, return, this topic that I'm telling you about. We started talking and he told me about this film, and eventually, he told me it would be great if I was part of it. I was hesitant at first, I'm not going to lie because, during that time, the whole deportation topic was trendy.
It was post-Trump and interviews and everyone wanted a piece of the story. I had been doing a lot of interviews, and I was hesitant, but then looking at it from a filmmaker's perspective, we started talking. I told him. "If we're going to do this, I would like to let you know that I have a position and the way I view things. I'm not just a subject that's going to be on your film. I'm also a filmmaker. I'm also a storyteller, and I got something to say.
Melissa Harris-Perry: I so appreciate the way that you have framed that, this idea that this issue becomes trendy and is seen as a media thing that people want a piece of, and so much of what this project is about, is about the humanity.
José Eduardo Aguilar: Yes, exactly. I grew up in Utah. I grew up undocumented. Even though I entered the States illegally back in the '90s, but I grew up undocumented. If you look at the film, there's different ages. It's not the same growing up undocumented in the '90s, as in the early 2000s, as now. What I like about the film is that it shows the diversity of how growing up undocumented can be or having undocumented parents, how diverse the topic is.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The film, the animation brings such a human quality to all of this, and tells the story, I think, in a way that is profoundly unique, or tells the stories, but maybe delve a little bit, for me, into what you see as the differences between growing up undocumented in those timeframes.
José Eduardo Aguilar: Something that has opened up my perspective about this topic is deportation actually. Like I mentioned, I grew up in Utah. I grew up in a small Mormon, predominantly white town. There were only three Mexican kids in elementary when I was in elementary. By the time I was in high school, there were maybe like 10 Mexicans. It was very different than if I would have grown up in California, or New York, or Florida, where you're around other people from other races, other cultures. When I got deported, I started working at these call centers, and I started meeting people from different backgrounds.
They also grew up undocumented, but they grew up in different states. Some people never even drove. They were surprised that I had a license. I always had a license because Utah was very lenient back then. Not only is the time, but it's also the space where you grow up, your surroundings. If you grow up in a big city, then you get deported to a small town, it's going to be different. If you grew up in a small town, then get deported to a big city, it's going to be a big difference. The diversity of this topic I think is what people don't really talk about.
Even within the undocumented or deported community, they think that their undocumented experience is everyone else's undocumented experience. When, in reality, it can be so much different.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Tell us a little bit about your own personal story of deportation.
José Eduardo Aguilar: Yes. I grew up in Utah, had a pretty fun upbringing, but there was always these identity issues that I had growing up back home. It wasn't until after I graduated high school, that's usually what happens when you grow up undocumented, after high school, you're like, "Okay, what am I going to do? I can't go to college," or, "I can, but I have to pay outside tuition even though I grew up here all my life." It became harder. I started drinking, and I got in trouble with the law in my first two years after high school. Eventually, a few years later, I got my stuff together and I was going back to school.
I finally figured out I wanted to study film, but in my first semester of college, I got deported. I was deported coming out of work. I had been drinking from-- We used to work at a bar, and I had my shift beer, and I walked out. I was riding my bike to my house, and I got stopped by the police. That's what happened. I think this character that you see in the film, this persona that I have created called El Deportee, I created it from this post-deportation reflection and experience, not only on my undocumented and deportation experience but other people that I have met in the call centers, in detention centers, here in Mexico and the different places that I've been.
I created this character that writes spoken word poetry and writes about growing up undocumented, then being deported, not really fitting in, in either place. That's what I've been doing here in Mexico, apart from doing also film. I've been doing spoken word poetry here in Mexico. That's basically what keeps me going, just writing about our people. Like the lack of mobility of our people. We belong in both places, so we want mobility within both places.
Melissa Harris-Perry: José Eduardo Aguilar is featured in the animated documentary, Home is Somewhere Else.
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