Story of a young father who struggles to make a life for himself and his daughter while chasing his dream. Produced by GCP Fellow Rafael Flores.
As my first piece for The Game Changers Project I am tackling the issue of immigration raids on Latino families in the United States. I think this issue is not really focused on in mainstream media, and it is Latino filmmakers’ responsibility to address these topics and how it affects the Latino family unit.
I come from a family that was unconstitutionally deported in the 1920’s, despite my grandmother being born in Newport Beach, California. This experience has shaped my identity and I often use it to relate to my students who have experienced undocumented status in this country.
Keeping this in mind, I have developed a concept for a short experimental dance video with my students to explore the topic of immigration raids and the effects it has on Mexican families. I partnered with local non-profit United Roots and dance group TURF Inc. to create an interpretive dance video using the rich Turf Dance tradition that was homegrown by some of my students here in Oakland. For those of you who do not know, Turf Dancing is a form of Hip-Hop dance invented in East Oakland back in the early 2000’s, which continues today. It has become a staple form of expression in Oakland Hip-hop culture, and I thought it would be great to amplify that art form to be used as a vehicle to discuss political issues that affect the often-unrecognized Latino population in Oakland.
Currently the Department of Homeland Security has an “ERO Program” which is deporting thousands of people every year. This program is rarely mentioned in any journalism outlets in this country, yet they regularly lead large-scale raids on private residences and destroy thousands of families every year. Some of the statistics displayed in my film will speak to the commonality of this experience in the Latino community, and how it affects children with deported parents.
Aesthetically, I have adopted the Rasquache tradition in the Chicano community in the film. This is an art form that was popularized by Luis Valdez and El Teatro Campesino during the 1960’s, as they led an artistic revolution to support the United Farm Workers Movement in California. Rasquache refers to a state of impoverishment, or a working-class method of ingenuity that is comparable to the term “ghetto” or “imperfect”. It is a socio-political form of expression that describes a uniquely Chicano aesthetic that makes the most out of the littlest means. In adopting this artistic approach, I have chosen to use a film grain effect for the first part of the film, and shoot the second half of the film on my Iphone to highlight the Chicano filmmakers lack of resources. This decision not only allows me to match the form with content, but it allows me to further my own research in inspiring a “Rasquchista” Revolution in filmmaking. For more information on this movement and how my own media collective is advancing this movement, please click here to visit our Green Eyed Media Collective’s “Manifesto for the Modern Guerilla Filmmaker”
In my first discussion with the GCP Producers at the beginning of this fellowship we spoke about using one of my films to explore the connections between Africans living in America and African-Americans. As the daughter of a Gambian immigrant this topic hit very close to home. After talking a little about my dad’s experience in the States, we all agreed that looking at his life here could provide an interesting perspective into the subject.
My dad’s creativity is the backbone of this piece. As a batik artist and photographer it’s what has allowed him to build a career here in his adopted country. The images he paints reflect the scenes from home that have remained on his heart over the years. He puts everything into his work, it’s an integral part of who he is. As a result, everyone who comes into contact with my dad’s work gets a little piece of him, and a little piece of Gambia as well.
His creativity extends beyond his canvas and into the kitchen. When he came to the US food was one of the only physical ties he could maintain to home, so he taught himself to emulate the flavors he grew up tasting. When I reflect on my own life, my dad’s cooking was was the first and most consistent element of Gambian culture that I had growing up, and it remains one of the most memorable elements of my childhood and adolescence. Whether he was cooking for just our family or for a big crowd, his food has always been a very tangible way for him to share his culture with his loved ones and friends in America.
In terms of production, I wanted to connect the dots between his cooking and his painting to show that both are extensions of his creativity, his personality, and his world view. The dish he prepares in the piece is called Benachin, which is a Wolof word that translates to “one-pot” in English. It’s a staple dish in Gambia and Senegal, served as both a common meal and when people welcome others into their home. Though he only cooks on screen for a short time, this dish really embodies what I wanted to convey in the piece. In terms of my dad’s personality, it represents how he takes everything that life throws at him and uses it to make something positive. “One-pot” is also a metaphor for the idea of the American melting pot. Though we know that idea works far more in theory than in real life, it well reflects the optimism my dad had when he came to the US, and the hopes that many still carry as they make their way to this country.
Lastly, cooking Benachin serves as a virtual welcome for the viewer into my dad’s creative process, into our family, and into Gambian culture in general. In his own peaceful, methodical way my dad has used his creative gifts to show the world how connected we are as people across the diaspora. He will continue to advocate for us to build stronger connections as we collectively fight for our freedom, and it will continue to be a privilege for me to call him my dad. I hope you enjoy the piece and I hope you enjoy getting to know a little more about him.