I Was Born in Mexico, But...

A young woman struggles to hold onto her American dream after finding out she is undocumented.
by
Year Released
2013
Film Length(s)
12 mins
Closed captioning available Audio description available
Remote video URL

Introduction

I Was Born in Mexico, But… is a creative portrait of a young woman who thought she was American but finds out as a teen that she is undocumented. Because she doesn’t want to appear on camera, found footage from American culture illuminates her voice as she struggles with her new identity and the reality of not being able to legally drive, work or reside in the U.S.

This poetic film will introduce students of immigration, latinx studies, ethnic studies, sociology, psychology, education, and social work to a personal voice in the immigration debate, speaking about what it’s like to grow up and face an uncertain future as an undocumented young person in America.

In interviews done before DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), the film gives insight into what life was like before DACA was implemented. The subject of the film is a current DACA recipient.

AUDIO DESCRIPTION now available on DVD and New Day Streaming!

Featured review

...her subject's cautiously optimistic voiceover effectively presents a powerful reminder of the plight of illegal Mexican immigrants (ed.: no human being is illegal!). Recommended.
Video Librarian
Video Librarian

Synopsis

An unidentified young woman narrates her story, starting with faint memories of crossing the border at age 3: “bits and pieces of dream” of huge lights and people yelling Correle! (Run!) that she wasn’t able to piece together until later. She is a “DREAMer,” one of an estimated 1.4 million undocumented young people who were brought to the U.S. as children. She describes loving elementary school, where she learned English and made a lot of friends, but in middle school she started to have questions: why were her uncles talking about not being able to renew their driver’s licenses? Why was the family not able to travel? Her parents finally break it to her that she wasn’t born here, and from there she is left to figure out a path forward. How will she be able to go to college with no financial aid? Even if she can go to college, is it worth it, since she won’t be able to work in the career she studies? She describes the daily fears of an undocumented person: what happens if I get pulled over, if immigration pops out at my job? And also the struggle for dignity: she wants to be seen as herself- not just an undocumented person.

Reviews

The film presents a powerful depiction of the experience of DACA youth through childhood and into adulthood as they go through critical developmental milestones. It artfully depicts what it is not to have the privilege of belonging and why that system needs to change.
Lisa Warhuus
PhD, Associate Director, School-Based Behavioral Health, Center for Healthy Schools and Communities
This is a compelling story of a young person determined to exert her identity apart from labels and political policy, but at the mercy of factors beyond her control nonetheless. Highly recommend this short film!
Santa Cruz Public Libraries
Santa Cruz Public Libraries
I Was Born in Mexico, But... and Vida Diferida (Life, deferred) were shown to very appreciative audiences in West Marin during January of 2018. The films sparked rich discussions and questions about DACA from large and engaged audiences.
Bonny White
Branch Manager, Marin County Free Library
Tells an important story - evocatively so - of the undocumented youth who rarely get a platform from which to speak or be heard. My students loved it!
Kristy Guevara-Flanagan
Asst. Professor, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
Presents a compelling portrait of a young woman who discovers that she is not a citizen of the U.S. and realizes the complications to her life that this creates. We recommend this film highly!
Judith Johnson
Immigration Film Fest

Awards and Screenings

Los Angeles Film Festival, 2013
DOC NYC, 2013
Immigration Film Fest, 2015
Cine Las Americas, 2015
CineSol Film Fest, 2015
Watsonville Film Festival, 2017
Mountainfilm, 2018
Arizona Women's Film Festival, 2018
Flagstaff Mountain Film Festival, 2019

Director Commentary

I decided to make I Was Born in Mexico, But… after working as an editor on a piece about a high school for recent immigrants. Although there were interesting and important stories to tell about the kids who had come from Mexico, there was no way to include them in that documentary without putting them at risk. So we ended up leaving them out, and that got me thinking about this large group of Mexican immigrants who can’t tell their own stories- can’t show their faces and say their names- without risk of deportation.

Around that same time I met a young person who was undocumented, but who came here when she was so young she didn’t even know she wasn’t born here. She grew up thinking she was American, only to find out when she was a teenager that she didn’t have papers. She was living in a kind of limbo, trying to go to school and stay positive, even though without papers, there weren’t many opportunities.

She was willing to be interviewed, but she didn’t want to show her face on camera. I decided to use educational movies, commercials, and newsreels from the Prelinger Archives to stand in for her during the various points in her narrative. This also turned out to be effective in adding bits and pieces of American life and what it means to be American.

Since I interviewed this young woman, the Obama administration initiated DACA: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which offers the DREAMers (those who came here as children) protection from deportation and social security numbers which allow them to work and get driver’s licenses. From 2012 to 2016, DREAMers enjoyed a respite from fear of deportation and had the ability to legally work. On September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration rescinded the DACA program, with a 6 month extension. Since then the program has been in the court system. As of April 2022, initial applications to the program are allowed but cannot be processed. Existing DACA recipients are able to renew.

I hope that I Was Born in Mexico, But… will help people understand why immigration reform is so important, and that it will encourage people to support the continuation of DACA, the Dream Act and other immigration reform.

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Audio Description
  • Closed Captioning
  • Transcript
  • Resources for Educators

Subtitle/Caption Languages

  • English
  • Spanish

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

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