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It was a preview, not a screening. That’s what director and artist Andy Fernandez wanted to make clear at “Risers,” last weekend’s short film and digital portraiture exhibit at Hierarchy.
Not yet completed, the multimedia display was only a portion of the project’s entirety. Fernandez says he is working on a full “Risers” screening and debut in September. Until then, Fernandez let the Adams Morgan gallery become a window into the lives of D.C.’s undocumented immigrant youth for three days.
The project’s been in the works for nearly two years. “I went to a rally in October of 2013, which was like a large immigration reform rally, and took some footage and figured out [that] visually and aesthetically, there’s a lot here for me to work with,” Fernandez says.
The concept started as immigration reform at large, but Fernandez whittled it down to the stories of four young men and women who are protected from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration policy.
The film’s four subjects discuss the complications that come with being young and undocumented. They are valedictorians, scholarship recipients, and activists. Fernandez says he wants there to be a new term for the growing number of undocumented immigrants who are making big positive changes in their lives and the lives of others like them. That’s how “Risers” got its name.
Walking down Hierarchy’s steps, gallerygoers heard a young man and young woman reciting poems about the divide between being “American” and being undocumented. A projected excerpt from “Risers” covered a white wall: a young man standing sideways with the El Salvadorian flag draping his shoulders. He looked at the camera and yellow words formed over his digital portrait. Words of hope, faith, and concerns about the future glowed on the screen.
Another Riser, Brenda Perez, is a 19-year-old from Mexico City who’s studying to become a civil engineer at the University of the District of Columbia. At the preview, a projector displayed a scene of Perez speaking to a crowd. Her voice cracked over the megaphone as she described living in an abusive home in Mexico City and her mother’s decision to leave her husband and bring her children to the United States. At the end of her speech, Perez called for creating stepping stones for success in the States.
That’s one reason why she wants other undocumented youth to see the film. Perez says it’s important for immigrant youth to understand that citizenship does not have to stop them from achieving their dreams. She also hopes that “Risers” can help people who are on the fence about immigration issues understand the challenges of undocumented life in D.C.
“I also want people who are not sure what immigration is or are not really into immigration, I want them to learn from this,” Perez says. “I want them to see that there is more than just a face. There isn’t just somebody taking up space on the street. We’re actually doing stuff. We’re actually contributing to society. We’re doing all of this amazing stuff.”