Rebecca Camissa’s documentary titled “Which Way Home” features a harrowing tale on the grueling lengths young adults from Mexico and Central American countries endure on their migration towards seeking asylum in the United States. As the wind blows aboard “La Bestia” (freight train), the search for a greener pasture does not seem as ideal anymore as they are met by bureaucratic hurdles, predatory smugglers and corrupt government officials that pose barriers to their goal of reaching the United States. While the film subtly reflects upon the spiralling crisis that is global capitalism, Camissa’s play focusing on the film’s stark aesthetic approach has the audience caught in an emotional frenzy. The perils the child migrants face unveil the uncut truth and dubious reality that is real human aching. In this tender documentary, the audience is left captivated as they follow the young migrants transnational journey south, seen first hand through their lenses.
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The film follows several children and young adults from the impressionable ages of 9-17 as they make their way to the Mexican border. The audience is introduced to several children, particularly noteworthy is Kevin, a Honduran teenager embarking aboard the freight train alongside his friend Fito. Others including 9 year old Olga and Freddy, who imagine playing in the snow and reuniting with their families who have already migrated to the US. As well, the audience is introduced to Jose, an El Salvadoran boy who in the film is seen sobbing and feeling isolated as he remains alone in the Tapachula detention center, awaiting deportation back to home (Preston, 2009).
The term “home” is simply more than just the connotation of an individual’s occupancy of a physical place (Warner, 1994). Through the film, and the children’s migration journeys, home began to reflect a personal journey towards discovering where ones internal roots lie (Habib, 1996). The multifaceted word, shown from a transnational lens, represents both a term prospective for a better future but also a variable in attaining it firstly. These children crave familial adoration and nurturing but due to external factors, are outsourced to the US in search of prosperity or the hope to be adopted. Several of these children that were filmed never made it to the border unfortunately, or were kept in a detention center waiting for the worst. For some, the journey proved too dangerous as one family received the horrific news that their child had passed away and its body was being transported back in a casket.
Although this film is highly accomplished, it ascertains more on the human hazards of the journey, giving little insight on the weight socioeconomic and geopolitical issues render citizens urge to migrate, but in the context of this film, is an aesthetic feature we didn’t know was just as effective and captivating. Camissa’s intriguing style as a filmmaker opted for no narration; instead she chose to have the subject of her film be her eyes and ears seen first hand from the wits of the children’s migration journey. It is through the clever cinematic dramatization and observation that this film offers up more than just a media covered rationale behind transnational migration, but rather focuses on the personal perspectives of those living this experience and allows the audience to partake in their journey in a truly captivating moment as art depicted through film.
As an audience member, I was stunned by the destitute and inhumane circumstances swaying those young unaccompanied minors to travel physically daunting and emotionally grueling adventures. It was through decades involving “the evolution of capitalism that paved this way of uneven asymmetrical relations between industrialized countries and peripheral agrarian ones” (Arango, 2000). These young migrants feel propelled out of their labour intensive countries to chase this idealized image of a prosperous wage increase and better living conditions across the border. This decision hinges upon a cost-benefit analysis, where fear no longer exists; rather innocence of youth, and hope pave the way for survival even when unbeknownst to them, they will be exploited and treated as a commodity for the labour force with little to no benefit for these migrants (Arango, 2000). Camissa’s documentary released in 2009 fits in trend with a current distressing escapade that lies in the US-Mexico border policy barrier.
The priority of Capital Hill is to secure the southern border in effort to disable the flow of illicit drugs and organized crime; this is an unfair stigmatization associated with migrants entering their country to be all criminals and thus reprehended. (Buiza, 2018). This outcry results from Trump’s administration’s “zero tolerance policy” that was an enabling factoring separating migrant children from their parents in the first place (Chishti et al. 2019). “It is to be documented that all sovereign states and various jurisdictions have a right to regulate entry into their country” (HRW, 2018). If the US fears these migrants pose a threat to the safety of the public, combined with a history of illegal activity, they are to be criminally prosecuted and sentenced” (HRW, 2018). The film sheds a look on how US immigration structures have devastating and lasting affects on family relationships, illustrating that the grass is not much greener on the other side.
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The challenges that face Mexico and Central American countries expand beyond illegal migration that deter them from being able to weather the demographic storm that the US and other countries impose on them. This is a result of power being treated like currency (Arango, 2000). By emphasizing to the viewer the nature of human tragedy through its appalling cinematic captures as a poignant focus of the film, as opposed to a geopolitical crisis that involves decades of US driven economic reforms, it operated “on the median of pathos and relied on reaching to potential sensibilities and attitudes that have been suppressed by the cacophony of our data- and information-driven culture” (Buiza, 2018). President Trump has repeatedly bashed migrants in the media, protesting to the American citizens, "they're taking our manufacturing jobs, they're taking our money" (PBS, 2019). In keeping with the current news, there is a substantial amount of policy recommendations and potential solutions to be made in order for families and children to not get separated at the border (HRW, 2018). Instead of US ploughing a substantial amount of funds to secure their border against undocumented immigrants seeking asylum in their country, my recommendation would be to channel these resources to reform the immigration system to be more stable and humane. As for the film itself, my only criticism and therefore suggestion would be to have explored the point of view on push and pull factors leading to child migration from the authority figures in US and Central American countries. We saw several factors indicating why these children would want to escape their country, but the audience was not made aware to if officials believe immigration handles in the 2009 were seen as a violation of human rights.
In the end, a good documentary galvanizes the audience to demand a referendum; Camissa’s film did just that. “While the film offers no solution, it however illustrates with each frame captured that finding one is crucial” (Pedzich, 2011).
The stories of these migrants risking everything for a better life can only be seen from the outside perspective. We as the viewers can only sympathize in the end with their decision to embark on such a challenging journey to escape the underlying factors in a search for home.
- Arango, J. (2000, December 16). Explaining Migration: A Critical View. Retrieved from https://www.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1468-2451.00259.
- Boak, J. (2019, February 8). AP fact check: Trump plays on immigration myths. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/ap-fact-check-trump-plays-on-immigration-myths.
- Buiza, N. (2018). Crossing mexico on la bestia: The central american migrant experience in the documentary films which way home and who is dayani cristal? Hispanic Research Journal, 19(4), 415-429. doi:10.1080/14682737.2018.1492674
- Chishti, M., Chishti, S. P. M., Pierce, S., & Telus, H. (2019, August 2). Spike in Unaccompanied Child Arrivals at U.S.-Mexico Border Proves Enduring Challenge; Citizenship Question on 2020 Census in Doubt. Retrieved from https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/spike-unaccompanied-child-arrivals-proves-enduring-challenge.
- Habib, N. (1996). The Search For Home. Journal of Refugee Studies, 9(1).
- Pedzich, J. (2011, June 15). Which Way Home. Library Journal, 136(11), 57+. Retrieved from https://link-gale-com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/apps/doc/A258815088/CPI?u=utoronto_main&sid=CPI&xid=c5d678cd
- Preston, J. (2009, August 23). Not Child's Play: Closely Watched Train Hoppers. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/24/arts/television/24migrant.html.
- Zea, A. (n.d.). Children and 'The Beast'. Retrieved from https://www.themantle.com/international-affairs/children-and-beast.
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