For the past year, I have had the privilege to make a short animated documentary about a young woman’s journey from Guatemala to the United States. Culled from over 5 hours of personal interviews with E.L. (we are keeping her identity private for now), the 9 minute film follows the journey of a determined 12-year-old who was separated from her mother by smugglers, as she sets out across a desert with only a plastic sack for cover, survives starvation on the streets of Ciudad Juarez, and escapes kidnappers to seek her mother and a place where they can be safe again.
When we talk about immigrants and refugees and undocumented people, who we sometimes wrongly call “illegal”—we don’t think about the individual people behind the issue. Each person’s individual story is unique. And I wanted to make this a film that tells a personal story—that’s why there’s one woman rather than a group of people. I wanted you to know the trials she went through both before she came and that, once she got here, those trials still aren’t over. People who are worried about their documentation status live with enormous stress as well as the trauma of what they’ve been through.
I found E.L. at a point where she was able to and wanted to speak about what had happened, and the trauma wasn’t so overwhelming that she could put words to her journey. Speaking the same language allowed us to develop trust quickly between us—she had to take a risk, and I hoped she knew that I was someone who would respect the power and fragility of her story.