DACA grantee chronicles life of undocumented Filipino family in short film

LOS ANGELES – Many people in the United States cannot even begin to imagine what life is like for undocumented immigrants and their families. The lack of understanding has led to negative misconceptions and stereotypes about the life of the undocumented people, and has left a pervasive stigma that the immigrant community has fought long and hard to shake off.

For Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) grantee and immigrant rights advocate Seth Roquillo, using film as a medium of communication can play a key role in opening the eyes of Americans about what it really means to be undocumented.

Ronquillo’s short film, “Us” is among the three movies being showcased in Our Story: A Movement of Undocumented APIs — a series of screenings and community forums organized by immigrant advocacy groups in Southern California. One of the screenings was held recently at the Pilipino Workers Center (PWC) in Historic Filipinotown in Los Angeles, hosted by ASPIRE LA, APALA LA, Advancing Justice LA, and UCLA Labor Center.

The story of ‘Us’

“Us” is an eight-minute documentary movie that Ronquillo originally created for a school project. The film was primarily done in fulfillment of academic requirements in school. However, for Roquillo, the creative process behind it was also a way for him to learn more about how he became an undocumented immigrant, and what his family thinks about the undocumented life.

“Us” shines the spotlight on Ronquillo’s mother and older brother, who figure prominently throughout the film in on-cam interviews. Using the interviews and raw cuts from his own family’s home videos, Ronquillo was able to depict the intimate narrative of his family’s life as undocumented immigrants.

“I also wanted to show that undocumented immigrants like me and my family, the things that we aspire for is the same as what everybody else aspires for: to be together with your family, to be able to live together, to provide for your kids. Everyone has those hopes. And undocumented people also have those hopes,” Ronquillo said to Asian Journal.

In essence, that school project became his own path to self-discovery, Ronquillo said.

Ronquillo was previously an undocumented immigrant, like most of his family members. But he has since been granted DACA status when he applied for temporary relief under the program.

With Ronquillo himself conducting the on-cam interviews with his mom and brother, and with the use of personal footage mined from family videos, “Us” had a degree of intimacy that pulled the viewers in and hooking them to the emotional journey of the family.

“I just wanted to keep it as simple as I can,” the filmmaker said. Ronquillo said that he originally intended to feature more family members in his project, but due to some complicated circumstances, he wasn’t able to do so. His father  had to return home to the Philippines because a relative there was very ill. However, because he did not have a green card then, Mr. Ronquillo was not able to return to the US.

“Even though he wasn’t deported, it still feels that way because he’s not able to come back easily anymore [sic],” Ronquillo said of his father.

The plight of his father ended up playing a major part in Ronquillo’s film.

Ronquillo said that it was “definitely awkward” to make this project, mainly because of the way the Filipino community considers being an undocumented immigrant as a taboo topic. His mom and brothers were even reluctant at first to do the interviews, but then decided to take part anyway.

Heartfelt relevance

“I think, originally, my family just helped me out because they wanted me to get an A for that class project. But it ended up becoming more heartfelt that I originally anticipated,” Ronquillo said.

The young filmmaker said that the first festival that “Us” got into was in Arkansas. Ronquillo said that spreading his message to other communities in the United States was an exciting prospect.

“Who in Arkansas talks about being undocumented? That was really exciting,” Ronquillo said.

Madison Villanueva, another Filipino DACA grantee and core member of ASPIRE LA, said that the groups behind the film screenings planned their series of activities in locations where there are significant concentrations of Asian Pacific Islander (API) residents, to raise awareness among these communities.

“We really wanted to raise awareness in the community of how immigration affects our community. Hopefully, through these events, we can educate and engage them into our movement, especially at this time, because Obama announced [his intent to use executive powers for] administrative relief. It’s important for everybody to know [about it because] DACA and [other forms of] administrative relief can really help our communities,” Villanueva said. 

(LA Midweek August 20-22, 2014 Sec. A pg.1)

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