The Long Road Home is a record of historical events around the war in Guatemala and puts a human face on the term "refugee".
The last 40 years of Guatemalan history has been a tragic string of right-wing fanaticism, military coup, rampant murder, and political persecution. It is no secret that the U.S. has played a large part in this reign of terror. From the C.I.A. backing of dictators to the Reagan Administration's willful blindness toward human rights violations in order to resume interrupted military aid, we had our hand in their domestic pie for over half a century. It is appropriate, then that Americans see some of the fruits of their political meddling. Andrea Leland gives us a glimpse into the lives of Guatemalan refugees in her documentary film, The Long Road Home. Hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans have fled their country and the brutality of the military government, for the uncertain and painful like of refugee camps in southern Mexico. Mexico has not accepted these people openly, the refugees are confined to particularly hostile area, and have little hope of actually making a living or fending for themselves from the environment. They are almost wholly dependent upon international relief. Amongst all this pain, Leland actually relates a story of incredible hope. The film follows Ricardo Hernandez, a former refugee now living in Chicago, as he return to the camps to see how his people are faring. Despite the bleakness of their situation the people are extremely optimistic. They continue to look with certainty toward the day when they will return to Guatemala, freely and safely. But rather than idly await that day they have opted to organize themselves as much as possible. Teachers are appointed and schools constructed, makeshift doctors receive training in medicine, representatives from each group are elected to speak with the U.N. about aid and their voice in negotiations for the eventual return to Guatemala. The film dwells not so much on political and economic conditions in Guatemala and Mexico, but rather on the spirit of these much abused people. Some might find fault with this indirect approach, but the end product is still educational an stimulating. Highly recommended for school and academic libraries, particularly those with Central and Latin American interests.
During the 1980’s, the CIA backed the Guatemalan government’s efforts to destroy the resistance movement that was growing among the indigenous Maya peoples. Human rights organizations around the world condemned the army’s “scorch and burn” policy, whereby the government backed militia razed over indigenous 200 villages along the Mexican / Guatemalan border in their attempts to crush the guerillas. Thousands of Maya fled across the border into Mexico seeking refuge and to save their lives.
This is the story of Ricardo who fled his village in Guatemala to seek refuge with his family in a refugee camp in Mexico. After spending years in the camp, he and his family crossed into the United States illegally seeking to join other family members in Kansas. With the help of the “sanctuary movement”, members of a church and synagogue helped the family settle in Chicago where they could tell their story and help to make changes in Guatemala. This film was used as a tool towards that effort.
With the award of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize to Guatemalan human rights activist Rigoberta Menchu, and the beginning of the return of Guatemalan refugees from 10 years of exile in Mexico, interest in the fate of the Guatemaltecos has increased. Teachers wishing to introduce their junior or high school students to the causes and realities of the refugee situation will find an outstanding overview in The Long Road Home, a 30-minute video produced and direct by Andrea E. Leland. The documentary follows a 19-year old Guatemalan refugee living in Chicago on a visit to family and friends in refugee camp in Mexico. The video present a vivid picture of the lives of the exiled Guatemalans showing how they have organized themselves and built a democratic community denied them in their own land.