If the government of the United States held the key to your freedom, how far would you go to retrieve it? Would you risk walking across the country, 3,000 miles to the nation’s capital for the possibility of telling our leaders that you deserve the right to be a citizen of America, knowing it could be for nothing?
A group of seven young people did just that and not even just for their freedom — an attainability that feels out of reach — but to have their voices be heard. Directors Jenniffer Castillo and Saray Deiseil captured that journey in American DREAMers, a documentary, which will be screened at the San Francisco Latino Film Festival taking place September 18-27.
The film tells the story of their eight-month quest to Washington D.C. and captures their fight for immigrant rights. The title of the film pays homage to the DREAM Act, which is an acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors and is an American legislative proposal that would grant conditional residency to those that met the qualifications, and could lead to permanent U.S. citizenship.
All of the participants/activists profiled in this film have proven to be stellar community leaders and scholars. One of the two of the female Latinas that walked thousands of miles is 28-year-old Veronica Gomez — who was brought over to the United States three days before her fourth birthday and most recently earned a B.A. in Criminal Justice from California State University East Bay. However, because of her immigration status it’s virtually impossible for her to obtain a job in her field of study.
Raymi Gutierrez, 26, is the only person in the DREAMers doc to be a U.S. citizen. Her fight for immigration rights began when the day after Christmas, when her father summoned the family to tell them that they had received eight deportation letters for half of her family.
“I was carrying this anxiety with me during the walk — especially since I was sharing my family’s story hundreds of times — which was like opening a wound over and over again,” Gutierrez says. “Even in the vulnerable state I was in, I made it through the journey by literally taking it one step at a time.”
Gutierrez says that experience gave her the motivation to fight for her family's rights. But the walk itself came with another load of hardships and stress including sleeping in abandoned homes, or sleeping on the street, along with dragging their belongings in shopping carts.
For Gomez, it was the laboring journey that gave her more encouragement to keep fighting regardless of the obstacles. “After being part of the walk, and organizing alongside the undocumented youth movement, I realized that as a community we can make a difference,” she says.
“The hunger strikes, sit-ins, protests outside detention centers, those are the fights on the ground that led to the announcement of DACA. We won our fight in the streets, even more than it was in the White House. Keeping that in mind, keeps me moving forward.”
The result of their 3,000 mile journey can be seen in the film, but the DREAMers have only begun the first part of their ultimate goal.
“My biggest mission right now is to continue to be involved in the community in anyway that I can," Gomez says. “There are many issues our community faces and we need to keep fighting. If we don't, who will?”