Last week on Close-up Culture, we spoke to A Line Birds Cannot See director Amy Bench about sharing the story of an immigrant’s unimaginably tough journey to the US.
EL, the subject of Bench’s animated short film, was just 12 years old when she was separated from her mother by smugglers at the border. This incident would just be the beginning of a terrifying journey for EL that included surviving starvation on the streets of Ciudad Juarez and escaping from kidnappers.
We are now proud to welcome EL – whose name has been shortened to initials for the protection of her family – onto the site for an emotional talk about revisiting her painful past to help make this film.
Q: When were you first approached to take part in this film? Did you have any doubts about it?
A: Amy and I got connected through an organisation I had previously been volunteering with. Amy reached out to me because she was interested in learning more about my story and so we met up.
At the beginning it was quite difficult to share and I did have some doubts about taking part, because I had previously been reached out to numerous times and one of those times, the person who took a lot of footage of my story was nowhere to be found.
Q: You are understandably emotional during the film. How did you find the process of opening up and reliving your experiences?
A: At first it was quite difficult to share and I did become very emotional at times. I began to relive the experiences and they would take me back to certain emotions triggered by the memories. Mostly when I mentioned my mom or the journey to the US, I began to have some sort of anxiety for a bit but then the more I shared, the more I felt so much relief.
Q: Can you talk about your relationship with Amy Bench and how that developed over the process of making this film?
A: Working with Amy was has been great. At first, I did find it quite difficult to trust and open up but she would reach out to me and I felt like she cared to share my story. Her questions were “counseling” like and I felt a sense of relief every time I would share with her.
She has kept me involved in the movie process which is something I really appreciated. Most people leave you outside of the development or purpose of the project. Working with Amy has been really great and I know she will continue to share my story with a good message.
Q: What is it like for you to see the divisiveness of the immigration debates in the US when you are so personally connected to this issue?
A: Given that I’m extremely connected to these issues, every time I see them on the news, it makes me have some reaction to the events. For example, when DACA comes up on the news, when I hear about deportations, when I hear about DACA beneficiaries being detained or especially when I heard about children dying at the border, it all triggers so many emotions. That is what led me and is continuing to lead me to speak up for those who have no voice or who have been forgotten.
When some people are quick to judge an immigrant or question them about the “Why” are you coming here, etc – It makes me think of the many reasons of why they decided to come over. I believe my story can change people’s hearts and their perception of immigrants in the midst of all this divisiveness.
Q: What was your reaction to seeing the film for first time?
A: The first time I watched it was with my mom and it was quite an emotional moment.
There were many things I did not tell my mom nor my mom wanted me to tell her because it would be too hard for her to hear. However, when we both watched the film, we cried, talked for a while and realised that it was important to share.
My mom told me that I was giving her and my siblings purpose and a place they belonged since she felt we were forgotten people. Then we watched it at the SXSW premiere – it was another absolutely emotional moment for me and my mom. My mom still talks about it all the time with me. She said she never thought to live such an experience and be at such a place.
Q: What do you hope audience take away from your story?
A: I hope that people see the humanity of immigrants and the message being shared. I believe that this film could move people’s hearts to want to know more stories or want to advocate for immigrants and children at the border. We are somebody, we are people who need advocates. We need a platform to continue sharing our stories to grow and develop.
Q: The film ends on a mixed note. Are you optimistic about your future and finding a place to call ‘home’?
A: I’m very optimistic that some day all these troubles will end. I believe it will be a long time until I finally say “I have found a place I can call home” without worrying about whether a certain policy will change and take away everything I’ve worked for. It may not be here or there, but I do hope that day comes.
Currently in the US, I find myself anxious about whether I’ll be detained one day for no reason or that I will no longer have the opportunity to work or advance my education. There was recently a bill introduced in the House called the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019. I’m very optimist that one day such a bill will pass to give us a pathway towards legalisation so that we can no longer live in anxiety.