For countless undocumented youth, the looming threat of deportation haunts every aspect of their lives, dimming their prospects for education and a career, and imposing a constant fear of being torn from their families and their community. A new documentary explores those fears through the precocious eyes of a young artist who, as an undocumented Latina teenager, channels a world of frustration onto a fresh canvas.
The self-narrated film (which airs in August on MTV) depicts Inocente’s journey through poverty, homelessness, and the chaos of the broken immigration system–on top of all the day-to-day challenges of figuring out her identity as a kid growing up in city that alternately embraces and excludes her. She finds a voice in her bold, wildly colorful artwork.
Filmed by documentary makers Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, Inocente’s struggle reflects the cross-cutting issues that ensnare many undocumented youth. Thousands of children of undocumented immigrants have been swept up into the foster care system after their parents were detained, according to a recent investigation by Colorlines.com. Many undocumented immigrant children also wind up homeless, cut off from their families and unable to access many of the social resources that are available to citizen youth. And the national movement for the DREAM Act has highlighted the plight of hundreds of thousands of youth, who are unable to pursue their education or find sustainable employment because they are unable to legalize their status. According to recent data, our public high schools graduate 65,000 undocumented youth every year, yet only a tiny fraction attend college, due in large part to financial and legal barriers.
From the film’s synopsis:
At 15, Inocente refuses to let her dream of becoming an artist be caged by her life as an undocumented immigrant forced to live homeless for the last nine years. Color is her personal revolution and its extraordinary sweep on her canvases creates a world that looks nothing like her own dark past – – a past punctuated by a father deported for domestic abuse, an alcoholic and defeated mother of four who once took her daughter by the hand to jump off a bridge together, an endless shuffle year after year through the city’s overcrowded homeless shelters and the constant threat of deportation.
Despite this history, Inocente’s eyes envision a world transformed…where buildings drip in yellow and orange, where pink and turquoise planets twinkle with rescued dreams, and one-eyed childlike creatures play amongst loved babies and purple clouds. Inocente’s family history is slowly revealed through her paintings.
Told entirely in her own words, we come to Inocente’s story as she realizes her life is at a turning point, and for the first time, she decides to take control of her own destiny. Irreverent, flawed and funny, she’s now channeling her irrepressible personality into a future she controls. Her talent has finally been noticed, and if she can create a body of work in time, she has an opportunity to put on her first art show. Meanwhile, her family life is at a tense impasse – – if she legally emancipates herself from her mother to strike out on her own, she’ll risk placing her brothers in foster care, but to stay is unbearable.
Today, countless families struggle to navigate the immigration bureaucracy, only to discover that “emancipation” often means turning away from their family members, or that “safety” means essentially living in hiding, hoping the authorities don’t knock on your door. In Inocente’s case, there’s no place to hide as she shuttles from shelter to shelter, trying to conceal both her immigration status and her homelessness from her peers at school. Art is her escape hatch. And it’s also the viewer’s window into a precious soul that our political and legal systems refuse to acknowledge.
To watch the film, see the documentary’s website for scheduled screenings.