Documentary shows the plight of young immigrants

ByAnabel Munoz and Jose Mayorquin KABC logo
Saturday, March 23, 2019
Young asylum seekers documentary
CalArts doc features the plight of young asylum seekers

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (KABC) -- As thousands of refugees continue to seek shelter in the U.S., a professor at CalArts is using theater and film to shed light on the plight of young immigrants.

The documentary "Finding Shelter" chronicles the true stories that inspired the 2016 play "Shelter"--a production conceived and written by Marissa Chibas, Head of Duende CalArts, an initiative that promotes Latinx projects at the California Institute of the Arts' Center for New Performance.

"It's almost 5 years ago that I started the research process," said Chibas. "I read an article in the L.A. Times about the child migrants, and it really caught me. It really grabbed my heart. And I thought okay, we have to do a theatre project about this."

The theatrical performance featured students from CalArts in a production originally held at Lincoln Park in East Los Angeles.

"It was in a public park right next to Plaza de la Raza that Cal Arts has had a lot of ongoing projects with for over 20 years now," said Chibas. "We had a big container that basically looks like a train as part of the set. We took it to other community venues. Did different versions of the play and it went to the Kennedy Center. And we really wanted to keep the stories going, so we decided to create this documentary."

The new documentary focuses on the young immigrants whose real-life experiences informed the play. Some of them were former students at Glassell Park's Sotomayor School for Science and Art, where the premiere screening of the film took place.

"There were seven kids I interviewed. I also did a lot of research and I went to a shelter in San Diego. At the time you could, now you can't," said Chibas.

Dr. Susan Terrio, Georgetown University Professor Emeritus, also collaborated on the project. "I was doing research on the juvenile detention system for unaccompanied minors and that is how we began to collaborate. And when the play was finished it was so impressive because statistics are one thing, but creating empathy for this population is incredibly important," said Dr. Terrio.

Today, the plight of young asylum seekers is even more pressing. Nearly 15,000 migrant children, mostly from Central America, are currently being detained at the US-Mexico border.

"We started way before any of this political stuff now," said Andres Velez, one of the actors in the original production. "A problem we thought might have gone better has gotten worse and worse."

"Never in my wildest dreams honestly did I think parents would have their children ripped from their arms," said Chibas. "I mean, that things would get as horrific as they've gotten."

"My hope for a project like this is for these young people to feel like they have a place and that they have power. Their journey towards seeking a better life, that there is nothing wrong with that. We need to have some empathy and really imagine what somebody is going through trying to come here, and what they're fleeing, and how we may have played a part in what's going in those countries. The history is important. We can't just turn away from this. We need dig deep into our humanity ."