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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Life + Arts

Honors documentary hits ‘Home’

The Honors College hosted a screening of Rebecca Camissa’s HBO documentary “Which Way Home” on Thursday afternoon. It tells the story of the perilous journey many Latin American immigrants make, with one twist — these migrants are young people, none of them beyond their teens, some of them younger. The stories are so personal that they encourage empathy.

“This documentary about immigration is part of a series of documentaries about immigration sponsored by The Center for the Americas at the University of Houston,” Latin American scholar Lois Parkinson Zamora said. “We bring the documentary makers to talk about the documentaries — that is what makes the series special,”

The documentary offers a new perspective for the discourse on immigration by looking at the impetus for leaving the homeland. Some of them appear to be stereotypical cases. Enter Jairo, whose mother died and has since lost his livelihood. He’s been living a meager existence. To escape the streets, he comes to Texas to find a job. But the story is not black and white.

Jairo isn’t here to make money, leave and spend it back in Mexico. His ultimate hope is to be able to afford an education.

Others are motivated to bridge familial divisions. Just nine years old at the time of the documentary, Jose tells his story. He wants to be with his mother who works in America, so he hops on a bus with a smuggler, who takes him to another smuggler, who takes him to yet another smuggler who takes him to a lady.

The lady jumps ship when authorities storm the vehicle. He is shown answering questions in a detention facility.

Some of them might have done drugs and stolen things. We might call them criminals. We might see them as immoral and unethical. This documentary, though, turns that wisdom on its head. Yurico is one such character. He has been down that alley.

He isn’t like the hardened thieves and the drug addicts. He wants change. He wants a better environment than the streets he lives in. So what does he do? He hops on a train to go to the land of opportunity, the US, and hopes for the best.

Many times, they don’t survive. Poignantly, two of them don’t live to tell about their journey. Rosario and Eloy, who are cousins, were discovered in the hands of the indiscriminate desert where they, like many unnamed before them, fall victim to the danger of their quest. Their parents tell their stories. Rosario, the oldest of the pair, was just sixteen years old.

“This documentary should affect UH students,” Zamora said. “Because immigration is our most important civil rights issue now in the US.”

The goal is, as Zamora remarks, to make UH students “more aware of the need for the US to devise an immigration policy that works for everyone concerned: immigrants and their families in the US, and workers and companies in the US.”

Ultimately, the documentary participates and changes the nature of discourse on immigration. Americans view the issue as a pre-dominantly political one.

But Camissa’s documentary reminds us that there are civil, cultural, social and personal concerns that are just as — if not more — important. They are the difference between life and death.

Zamora comments that the series “emphasizes ‘documentary diplomacy’; that is, the increasing importance of video advocacy as a tool for social justice.” She says, “We’ve seen the power of visual media in the recent events in Cairo, Tunisia, and before, in Iran. In short, this documentary shows the dire circumstances of children who leave Honduras and make their way on foot through Guatemala to Mexico, then jump on trains to try to make it to the US.”

Rebecca Camissa’s documentary challenges us to look ourselves in the mirror and re-evaluate our stereotypes and our policies. Can we justify a policy that separates families? Can we refuse Yurico the chance to live in a better environment? Can we say that all migrants from south of the border found with contraband are smugglers, thieves and drug addicts? Can we deny a child the opportunity to pursue an education?

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