Bay Area Inspire Awards: (In) Visible + (Un) Told

Guest blog post by Claudia Luz Suarez, 2018 Bay Area Inspire Awardee

At the start of 2018, Philanthropic Ventures Foundation (PVF) awarded grants to six young Bay Area residents with fresh ideas for building better communities. These awards were made possible through the Bay Area Inspire Awards, which provides $5,000 grants to 18-30 year olds living in San Francisco, Alameda, and San Mateo Counties. Below is a reflection written by one of these awardees, Claudia Luz Suarez. In her project, she is collaborating with and training migrant youth to create a documentary series focusing on the acts of representation, remembering, and archiving the undocumented experiences of migrants who are often ignored by media due to age, nationality, or status.

Often when we hear about immigrants in the mainstream media, we hear a very dichotomous one-sided narrative about what that looks like. They are young. They are college bound. They are Latino/a. They are DACAmented. They are unlawful.

But the truth is, immigrants are none of these things, and all of these things all at the same time.

Art by Quetzalli Jimenez of documentary participants Kenzi Hilario, Natalia Avvakumova,  Claudia Y. Suarez, and Yota OmoSowho.

The film project (In) Visible + (Un) Told is a youth led documentary project that highlights the stories of bay area immigrants who challenge that immigrant narrative and showcase how complex, and multi-dimensional immigrants stories are. Our documentary participants are mothers, queer, activists, students, aspiring lawyers, journalists, cleaning ladies, dog lovers, home chefs, hikers, care givers, artists and much more. They are also Nigerian. Salvadoran. Mongolian. Filipina. Russian. Nicaraguan. They are refugees, asylum seekers, TPS and DACA holders, and undocumented. Our documentary makers are young, powerful, curious, student filmmakers from Life Academy high school in Oakland.

The goal of this documentary is to promote inclusive representation for immigrants and challenge the notion that stereotypical content around migration is ‘what the people want.’ Art and representation affect policy which affect our everyday lives! Lack of inclusive representation doesn’t allow stories that also matter to be visible enough to be written into our resources, grants, policies. However, while that piece is important, it’s also equally important to give young people the space and opportunity to create art that is about their community and contribute to the growing content of positive representation of marginalized people.

Through weekly meetings at Life Academy High School, students participated in training in the three different stages of production: pre-production, production, and post-production. They were able to develop interview questions catered to each documentary participant and their immigration background. They developed shot lists and filmed interviews while in the midst of all that becoming cinematographers, directors, artists, and filmmakers along the way.

We held a media retreat and art workshop focused on creating visual pieces called ‘Assemblage Boxes’ that represented your migration history. This was a way to get the young people to get to know the documentary participants but to also reflect on the ways in which immigration impacts their lives.

After a school year of planning shoots and filming interviews students are now delving into the post-production world – editing – elevating the stories and finding the message that we want to put out into the world. The film will be screening in February 2019, which will be focused on bringing community together for one night and sharing the stories of the six participants! We hope that we can have performances that highlight the culture of Oakland ranging from dance, music, poetry, and film! We are so excited to be able to highlight the work that students have worked hard to create and direct, and to showcase what immigration looks like for different people.

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