“They say we are baby machines, stupid, drunks, gangbangers.”
In 12 minutes, teens from the Latin American Youth Center in Mount Pleasant confront stereotypes in ¿Que Pasa?. Produced as part of a gang prevention program, the video is the product of a collaboration between 20 teens and Maria Lovett and Marie Moll from Video/Action Fund. According to Jessica Osorio, 17, the goal is to “send the message not to believe all those stereotypes.”
The video opens with a candid discussion about coming to the U.S. “All I knew was that I was scared as hell,” recalls Wilfredo Garcia. “I was 7 when we took the plane to Mexico. We ran real quickly and crossed the border as fast as we could. Try to realize that these people who are coming to this country aren’t trying to take anybody’s job; they’re trying to survive.”
Shooting the video was meant to open the door to discussions about racism. Six months and 40 hours of footage later, ¿Que Pasa?’s insightful glimpse into these teens’ experiences earned the video a nomination to the Rosebud Film Festival. “¿Que Pasa? is not only deeply personal to the individual filmmakers, but also to the heart of the city,” says Natasha Retig, executive director of the festival. “This is a group that needs to be heard. I hope it’s just the beginning of more pieces about the immigrant experience.”
With no previous video experience, the group learned how to use cameras and editing equipment with the help of Moll and Lovett. Moll recalls that it took time for the teens to feel comfortable sharing their stories, but by the middle of the project they had made the transition, turning the cameras on each other and interviewing kids on the streets of Mount Pleasant. “The camera went from being an intruder to an ally,” says Moll.
Most of the teens chose to talk about racism and cultural identity. “We pay taxes,” Luis Castellanos says, leaning forward for emphasis, “but we never see that money coming back to our neighborhood. It’s being spent somewhere else on Capitol Hill; that’s why we’re living on the poor side. Nobody really cares about our community except us.”
“To me this is home,” says Osorio, whose father was an accountant in El Salvador but now works as a waiter. “But this country is run by white people, and they’re not going to want to see a Latino or a black person get to their level. I used to want to hit somebody when I heard them say something racist. Now I just ignore it. I know they need to be educated about other people.”
You can catch ¿Que Pasa? on cable access channels this summer. Though Rosebud will promote the video at other festivals, Moll says she has achieved what she set out to do. “As much as where the piece might go,” she says, “it’s about where it’s brought the young people. They have the authority to bring these issues out. This is a medium.”—Vanessa Bauzá