I’m delighted that NAFSA has decided to screen Papers at your upcoming conference in Kansas City. Papers, which I was proud to produce with Graham Street Productions, is a feature-length documentary film that follows five undocumented immigrant students in the United States, exploring the challenges they face as they turn 18 without legal status and confront the possibility of losing their dream of attending college in the country they consider home. NAFSA will host a screening of Papers during its 62nd Annual Conference and Expo in Kansas City, Missouri, on Monday, May 31 from 7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.
When I think about the essence of the film, I’m always reminded of a quote (and also a universal truth) from Eric, a nineteen-year old undocumented youth featured in the film who is struggling with depression and a sense of isolation: "In order to reach your goals, you have to struggle.” Juan Carlos, another of the students who appear in Papers, reiterates this message in the opening sequence: “I don’t know anybody who didn’t have to struggle to get where they want to be.”
Papers is as much a story of overcoming obstacles and taking on the struggles life brings each of us, as it is a film about undocumented youth in the U.S. today. In fact, “papers” alone do not mean that someone will be a self-sufficient, content, contributing member of society. We all know plenty of people who live with citizenship and legal residence every day and must face enormous challenges.
While the main characters in the film need “papers” desperately, each must still wrestle with his or her own challenges. Juan Carlos wonders whether he will drop out of high school. Yo Sub must decide what to do with his life when the doors to university are shut on him. Simone must decide whether to abide by the message, given to many undocumented immigrants in America, to “keep your head down and your mouth shut.”
But Papers breaks that immediately. Five brave, young people choose to take the risks of arrest, detention and deportation to countries they do not even remember, in order to bring to light some of the stories of the two million undocumented children who live in the United States today. They live in the shadows, hit barriers constantly, and grapple with deep depression.
What saves them is what saves us all, and that is to tell our stories, to exit our isolation, and to join others in action. The efforts of some of the characters to pass the DREAM Act – which would provide many undocumented youth a path to citizenship if they attend college or join the military – is as much about changing the law as it is about “coming of the closet” about being undocumented in order to find solidarity and personal freedom.
I hope that you will take the opportunity to view this powerful film in Kansas City. We look forward to your comments and reactions, here on the NAFSA blog and on our pages about the movie, which you can find at www.papersthemovie.com.
Rebecca Shine is the producer of the film "Papers" and co-founder of Graham Street Productions. Before producing "Papers," Rebecca served as the President of R. Shine Inc., providing consulting services to non-profits, schools and public agencies. Her work focused on the areas of economic development, social services and youth leadership. She has mentored many young people, including a number of undocumented youth.