Keiko Yoshioka is from New Jersey and is a third-year student at Soka University of America. Even though her academic concentration is Social and Behaioral Sciences with an emphasis is on psychology, she is passionate about the languages and cultures of Latin America and Spain. As an American-born, she seeks to understand the history of the U.S. Mexico Border from and thus formulate an overall understanding of the situation from both sides.

Martha Valle was born into a Mexican family in 1991 that had migrated to Los Angeles, California. She is currently a sophomore at Soka University of America, and is interested in International Studies. Growing up in the United States and embracing her Mexican culture she has always been interested in the relationship between both bordering countries, United States and Mexico.

My name is Hiroko Yoshimura and I am from Japan. I have lived in New Zealand and Australia and now I am a junior at Soka University of America. I am interested in Development, but don’t know which particular area yet. In this learning cluster, I would like to learn if there is anyway that business can contribute to sustainable development. In a current society where business has a big power to affect the world, I think business also can contribute a lot in the field of development.

Heather Hallahan: I am a 20 year old Humanities student in the third year at Soka University of America. Growing up in the back-country of San Diego, I wanted to learn more about the border issues that are so closely tied to the city I refer to as home yet previously didn’t know much about. I joined this class in not only the hopes that I would be well informed on the topic, but also so that I could contribute to the change that it so desperately needs.

Eric Cheung: I am currently a junior attending Soka University of America. I have always seen a lot of news about illegal immigrants, corporations and sweatshops, and images of Mexico being poor and undeveloped. I wanted to be a part of this learning cluster to resolve this inexperience of mine involving those issues and to see those subjects firsthand.

My name is Maria Valdovinos and I am 19 years old. I am currently a sophomore attending Soka University of America. I was born in Los Angeles but raised in Naucalpan de Juarez, Mexico. My home is in Compton, California but spend most of my time here in Aliso Viejo. I am taking this course because as moving from the U.S. to Mexico and back to the U.S., my family and I have always being concerned about immigration issues. My life has a lot to do with border problems, immigration laws, and undocumented immigrants; it is part of who I am.

Interview with Theo Rigby

The fact that families are ripped apart is a stark reality of deportation. Sin Pais (Without Country), created by then graduate student Theo Rigby for his thesis project, is a moving documentary of just one family’s struggle with the callous process of deportation in the circumstances that part the family members are in possession of United States citizenship and the other half are not.
Our Learning Cluster class screened this film and later was fortunate enough to have a short Skype interview with Theo Rigby himself about his approach to filming such delicate material as family separation. We asked about his personal background regarding film and immigration and the struggles of the family behind the scenes that could not fit into the documentary, such as the many legal complications that were faced and were curious about what happened to the Mejias after the film was finished. (For example: How did you choose this family? What was the court case for the family like? In what circumstances can you appeal? Considering that this topic overviews many sensitive topics, what precautions did you take when documenting this film?)
Rigby’s interest in the topics of immigration and deportation began with a dissatisfaction of their empty representations in the media. Journeying to the border, he followed on camera a family of a single mother and her fourteen children for five years that were eventually caught by the Border Patrol.

Rigby knew that he wanted to document the struggle of someone in the process of fighting a deportation case for his graduate thesis project but had no set characters for his film project. He came into contact with the Mejia family by emailing friends and colleagues in order to find someone who was fighting deportation. Filming commenced just two weeks prior to the deportation of Sam and Elida Mejia, who had decided that their oldest son Gilbert, who was undocumented but not being deported, and their middle daughter, Helen, a citizen, would stay in the United States while the youngest, Dulce, also a citizen, would go to Guatemala. Although the Mejias case looked bleak and it was a very tough time for the family, they openly welcomed Rigby in the hopes of raising awareness for as well as among the countless others that face deportation.

Rigby was conscious of the difficulties that he might face in order to capture the family’s natural response to the situation, especially during such an emotional time for the family. He was a “gringo” invading their personal space. However, he eventually recognized “when to talk to them and when to step away” and eventually became a friend, confidant, and family. Rigby was present throughout the entire deportation process, including court meetings.
The documentary was created for academic purpose, but the end result was that it played an important role in deciding the fate of the Mejia family. Rigby finished the documentary just two days before the last court meeting that would make the final decision. Pleading the emotional aspects of family separation, as Rigby explained to us in the interview, is usually a weak argument and a long shot in deportation cases, yet the Majia’s lawyer appealed anyway, and the documentary was sent to the jury and lawyers as well. Surprisingly, Sam and Elida were granted a visa. However, the Mejia’s troubles are not over. The visa is only temporary and must be reapplied for, Gilbert’s legal status is also still in question, and the family has already experienced the difficulties of being forced apart. Nevertheless, the future looks hopeful for the Mejia family and the documentary film Sin Pais continues to raise awareness.

Theo Rigby:

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What they normally do, and what’s the line from administration from Bush to Obama. Is basically, you know, we are looking for criminals, undocumented criminals and we are going to like, you know really, vigilantly hunt down these criminals that are undocumented. So, they have a list of people who they think are undocumented, who they think have committed crimes. And they use kind of that list to go into communities, sometimes really wreak havoc and instill a huge amount of fear in the community. In another cases they just go into a house, like the Mejia house, and they’re looking for someone who has committed a crime who doesn’t live there. So they knock on the door and ‘hey, where is Jose Mejia?’ and they are like ‘Jose Mejia? We don’t know Jose Mejia, our name is Mejia but there is no Jose here, we don’t know anyone’ and then the ICE agents would say ‘oh, sorry about that, where are your papers? Where are your papers? Where are your papers? That’s how they go into the premise of looking for a felony…And end up arresting many people who are undocumented, who haven’t committed a crime, other than crossing the border illegally. So that’s what happened in that case. They rushed into the house at like 6 in the morning with shot guns. Put guns to people’s heads when they were sleeping, woke them up, you know shackle them and brought them to jail. Yea, you know one part that wasn’t in the film was that Sam and Elita, the parents, actually had to wear GPS ankle bracelets on their ankles, like the same ones that sex offenders wore back then. They were in them in them for about a year and they had to report to an immigration office 3 times a week in San Francisco which is like an hour drive from their home. Just to show the immigration officer, ‘hey I’m here, I didn’t go anywhere’ as well as wearing the GPS that they gave so they felt like criminals. That’s how they got kind of involved into the immigration system.

Visit to the San Diego/Tijuana Border

On Friday January 21st, we met AFSC staff Benjamin Prado who guided us on a hike through the Border Field State Park, Imperial Beach, Friendship Circle and other parts of the San Diego-Mexico border. The border between Imperial Beach and Las Playas de Tijuana proved to be less intimidating than what many of us expected. The border was built out of wood and had huge gaps between each wooden pole that could easily fit a person. Benjamin explained to us that the fence extended itself far into the ocean, but most of the poles in the water are no longer there, as “nature has a funny way of getting rid of things it doesn’t like.” As we approached the fence, we noticed how easily we could confuse people from the Mexican side of the border with the people on the U.S. side. Since we were walking in a large group, someone from the Mexican side could have easily passed the border and joined our group. Though there were border patrol officers in surveillance, the border did not meet our expectations. Benjamin mentioned that you could easily contrast the interest of the people from both sides of the border just by looking at the density of people in each side of the beaches. The U.S. side of the border was empty; from the Mexico side, a family waved at us.
Throughout the tour, Prado presented 200 years of history describing the U.S.-Mexico relationship that had led to today’s situation of the border. While under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the U.S. and Mexico agreed to open borders, land and water rights and respect language and culture, U.S. has violated all of these agreements; the U.S. now strictly regulates the border, the Hoover Dam has closed water flow to Mexico, and California’s Prop 227 has ended bilingual education programs. Benjamin described the 1994 NAFTA agreement as “a death sentence” for many Mexicans. Statistics show that the militarization of the borders has not stopped migrants and in fact significantly increased migration as well as induce human-trafficking. The identification of immigrants without documents as “illegal aliens” and “criminal immigrants” dehumanizes this group and thus justifies policy-making without the consideration of their lives. Mexico’s modernization that NAFTA promised did not result. Prado suggests that there must be a change in Mexico’s economic policy as well as in the level of U.S. consumption so that people do not need to migrate in order to make a living.

U.S. Customs and border Protection—Securing America’s Borders

The US Government Accountability Office: Secure Border Initiative Fence Construction Cost

Visit to the Maquiladoras

Maquiladora is an industrial area in Mexico. There are over one million Mexicans working in over 3,000 maquiladoras manufacturing plants or export assembly plants in northern Mexico, producing products for the United States. Mexican labor is harshly exploited. Thanks to NAFTA, taxes and custom fees are almost nonexistent, only benefitng the multinational corporations. Maquiladoras are owned by the U.S. and countries in Asia and Europe and some could be considered “sweatshops” composed of young women working for as little as 50 cents an hour, for up to ten hours a day, six days a week. In worse case, workers are forced to live in shantytowns that lack electricity and clear water surrounding the factory cities.

On January 22, 2011, we visited Tijuana, one of the most well-known regions for Maquiladoras with the San Diego Maquiladora Workers Solidarity Network. Professor Enrique Davalos, San Diego City College, describe to us the history of Maquiladoras along the Border. On the tour, we were able to grasp the results of NAFTA – people’s struggles with immigration policy and the destructive effects of the factory pollutants to the people of Tijuana.

The first sight that we evidenced after entering Tijuana was the infinite barbed wires constructed along the border. On the wall, there were numerous artworks that were created to display people’s confrontation towards the immigration policy. For example, crosses that represented countless people who were killed when attempting to cross.

Next, we visited a basketball court that used to be filled with the toxic pile produced by a Maquiladora. The pollutants had hazardous effects on the residents that lived below the factory. In some cases, mothers gave birth to babies without brains or other body parts or organs. With the efforts of five brave mothers, concrete was built to cover the pollutants. However, this concrete can only stop the poisonous leak for 100 years.

We then visited an area where people live in precarious homes with no electricity, clean water or sanitary accommodations. The residents are not recognized as citizens by the Mexican government which means that they do not receive public services including health care and education. They work at Maquiladora factories in bad working conditions such as low wage and unreasonable length of working hours. We interviewed two women who live in that area. One of the women told us that she works at Maquiladora factory almost every day from early morning to midnight and she earns only 6 dollars in a week. Because of this harsh work environment, she has been suffering from skin rashes in her eyes and hands. Also, the production of the Maquiladoras has affected the environment. Factories located close to the residences have polluted the river. As people used this polluted river for drinking, many of them have fallen sick.

We also had an opportunity to interview female workers who were emplloyed in Maquiladora factories. Lourdes Lujan, shared with us that every day she had to clean 1,200 camera lenses with caustic soda (strong toxic chemical) that caused her face to burn. Although she talked to her boss about the burn, the boss ignored her claim. Another ex-worker also shared the extreme degree of the sexual harassment at her workplace. Bosses often humiliated female workers by calling them “pigs” and “filthy women.” As we heard their stories, we understood how women are looked down on and treated unfairly at the factories.

Documentary Film Workshop with Itzel Martínez del Cañizo

Eric Cheung, Norito Hagino, Julie Matsumoto

The vision of the director of Que Suene la Calle

On the last day of our trip we visited El Lugar del Nopal, a cultural center located in Tijuana. There we met with Itzel Martinez del Cañizo who is the documentary filmmaker of Que Suene La Calle. Through her project, Itzel intended to uncover the lives of street children in Tijuana whose realities were drastically different from her own. Her film follows the lives of these kids who have fallen victim to drugs, prostitution, and delinquency. Most of them come from a background of abuse and abandonment and have turned to the streets as their only viable alternative. After three years of filming, her documentary proved to be a success in sharing the lives of the children to a wider Mexican audience; yet, Itzel also faced many frustrations by the end of project, as no true change had come about for many of the kids she filmed.

Itzel describes the filmmaking process of Que Suene la Calle as a fluid one shaped greatly by the subjects themselves. She allowed the children to pick up the cameras and explore on their own what to film. Interestingly, while the boys used the cameras to play around, the girls had immediately turned the cameras on themselves. Thus, the main focus naturally fell on the girls who had shown greater interest and commitment to the project. Though Itzel kept in mind her primary role as a filmmaker, she became personally invested in the lives of the children. To film them would be to gain their trust and be accepted as more than just an outsider looking in.

In her following project, Itzel documented the lives of male convicts confined to a detention center. She placed herself into a vulnerable position by being a young woman amongst the convicts; yet her very status as a female gave her a non-threatening air, allowing the men to truly open up their lives to her. In the documentary, she had them share their dreams and imagine a world they would live in unrestricted by their current realities. Thus, the focus would not be on their past but rather on their hopes. Through this project she was able to reveal and understand their humanity beneath hardened exteriors.

Through watching the film and personally meeting with Itzel, our class gained great insight into the world of documentary filmmaking. It revealed to us the extensive process involved in which ethics and subjectivity cannot be removed. We also learned that while documentaries are helpful in sharing the realities of lives separate from our own, there are also unintended consequences in which the film’s subjects are made vulnerable through their exposure to the public eye.

During the interview, Itzel spoke to us in her native language of Spanish, which Professor Crowder-Taraborrelli gave a summarized translation of in English. The following is a transcription of the interview.

Itzel shares with us one of her various reasons for starting the project, Que Suene la Calle:

“…parto de que todos los trabajos que he hecho siempre hay una conexión personal aunque no se vea. Un interés que va de la mano con mi proceso personal. Que Suene la Calle no tiene nada que ver con mi vida, ni con mi experiencia, ni con mi aproximación a la ciudad. O sea, yo no soy de aquí, soy de la ciudad de México. Bueno, llegue aquí para hacer la primaria. Entonces, me he ido y regreso… Aquí hay como una comunidad cultural artística grande, como muy efervescente y también como muy unida. Y hay siempre como una preocupación por la ciudad y lo que de la ciudad sale. Un poco como la mirada desde el periodismo, desde [una prensa] muy amarillenta donde la ciudad tiene una mala reputación. Entonces, como que siempre desde la arte hay un interés en ver que la ciudad también propone otro tipo de cosas y hay otro tipo de imaginario aquí adentro. A mi me interesaba precisamente lo contrario. O sea yo decía si, estos discursos amarillistas de la cuidad y todo son parte de ella pero yo he construido mis veinte años aquí y yo esa realidad no la conozco. No tengo elementos desde donde contarla. O sea, voy a las grandes y grandes y grandes colonias que crecen y crecen anualmente en esta ciudad y soy una turista. No conozco lo que es vivir esta Tijuana.”


“In all her projects Itzel always tries to find a personal connection with the project she is working on. Although she was born in Mexico City, she came to Tijuana when she was attending her first year of high school. She’s been back and forth and she knows the city quite well. But the reality that these street kids live in, she had no connection with it. So her challenge was always “how do I find a connection with this reality I don’t know”. On top of that, Tijuana is a city that is heavily represented in the media, not only in Mexico but internationally and has a really bad reputation. So, the challenge then became greater because she had to connect with a population she didn’t really know and understood very well, and also present a vision of Tijuana that is a counterpoint to the representations in the media.”

Itzel elaborates on the selection process for the participants in her film:

“Entonces, fue un poco como permitir que el tiempo pase, como invertir todo ese tiempo… Y pues, utilizar todos los recursos que ellas mismas vayan permitiendo. La metodología yo la tenía diseñada pero obviamente podía variar dependiendo de las condiciones y situaciones…Yo daba al grupo de mujeres y al grupo de hombres por igual. O sea, yo quería explorar las dos posibilidades y ver… No tenía delimitados al principio que iba a hacer con las mujeres con las que iba a trabajar. Los hombres eran como muy evasivos…. o sea, utilizaban la cámara como para divertirse. Y las chicas inmediatamente volteaban las cameras hacia sí. Se exploraban el cuerpo, los pies, las manos, la cara. Empezaban a interactuar con la cámara. Empezaban dirigir situaciones… “A ver ponte enfrente. A ver así”. Pues eso fue como una ganancia muy grande …empezar a voltear la cámara para sí.”


“[In the beginning] she didn’t know that she was going to end up working with women as her central protagonists in her documentary. But when she gave them the camera, she noticed that the boys used the camera to “play around with” while the women immediately started filming parts of their body, immediately turning the camera to themselves. All the boys were filming mostly other objects, not themselves.

Itzel talks about her project after Que Suene la Calle, in which she asked her participants-, incarcerated males- to dream up a world they would like to live in:

“Fue bien revelador. Yo no sabía con qué me iba a encontrar. Yo dije ‘vamos a diseñar su ciudad. ¿Como les gustaría que sea? ¿Que haríamos?’… No se generaron las circunstancias como para llegar al punto en donde ellos les interesaran [el proyecto], que se hicieran participes y se comprometieran con el proyecto.

Y de allí, ¿a dónde íbamos? No sé. […] Y fue muy interesante, impactante, ¿no? Yo salía de allí en shock todos los días cuando me daba cuenta de la ternura que había adentro de estos hombres.

Un hombre que había estado siete años en prisión que tiene unas lágrimas tatuadas, que tiene una simbología, ¿no? Cada lágrima es como un hombre que tú has matado y todo esto. Había como una conexión muy especial. Platicábamos muy bien sin yo meterme demasiado Él de repente ha soltado muchas de sus vivencias pero no era por allí que a mi me interesaba llegar. Y él se diseñó como un doctor interesado por la comunidad y su nombre era Bambi.”


“Itzel says that it was incredibly revealing, this whole process was incredibly revealing because she didn’t know what to expect. She was asking them to propose something to her and for the group. Then everything that came out was sort of a surprise for her. Everyday she would leave this place shocked, moved by the tenderness that some of these men had inside.

There was one guy who had tears, tattooed tears in his cheeks, tattoos that are full of symbolism. He started to talk about his past experiences but she was not interested in that, she was interested in what she proposed him to think about. She says that in the game she proposed, he portrayed himself as a doctor, a very responsible doctor interested in the community and his nickname was Bambi.”

The Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition

By Katelyn Brazer

The Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, BSCC, is comprised of over 60 organizations, both governmental and non-profit, that work together to combat human trafficking and slavery along the U.S.-Mexico border region. Their website states that, “BSCC’s purpose is to bilaterally prevent and intervene in the commercial and sexual exploitation of men, women, and children while advocating for all exploited persons.” When our group met with the Executive Director, Marisa Ugarte, we were impressed and simultaneously shocked, as she had so much to share with us. When asked what a typical day in this line of work is like she responded, “Horrible, non-stop, it can be anytime, day or night that you get new cases.” At this moment, as if to exemplify the horrific reality of her statements, Ugarte received a phone call from Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) informing her of a new case in the area. We learned that the huge ring of forced prostitution in San Diego is largely due to the U.S. military presence in the area. Women from south of the border are being forced, coerced, and defrauded into coming to the U.S. where they will service many men a day and suffer many more human rights abuses.

Ugarte explained to the group that the organization helps a wide range of cases including both domestic as well as international cases and both labor and sexual exploitation cases. Human trafficking is the second largest illegal market and countless people fall prey to traffickers and consumers. Currently the organization has thirty-eight open cases. Ugarte warns that organ trafficking is a pertinent issue that must also be addressed, yet sadly is often over looked. She says that the problem with our society has become that, “We don’t consider humans human anymore. We consider them recyclable profits.”

Photo Essay by Norito Hagino

Children at Comunidad Chilpancingo.

Comunidad Chilpancingo.

Parque industrial.

Shoes at Comunidad Chilpancingo.

Walking to see the new housing developments in Tijuana.

The old fence of San Diego/Tijuana border.

Art work in memory of people who attempted to cross the border.

The new fence.

The entrance to Tijuana from San Diego.

A family in the border fence.

Playas de Tijuana from the Imperial Beach side.

Colectivo Chilpancingo Pro Justicia Ambiental

El Equipo de Acción Comunitaria de la BEJC – el Colectivo Chilpancingo Pro Justicia Ambiental

Los miembros del Colectivo son residentes de la colonia Chilpancingo y los vecindarios adyacentes. La mayoría son mujeres, y tienen un compromiso con la justicia social y ambiental. Activo desde mediados de los 1990, el Colectivo se dedica a mejorar las condiciones de vida de todos los residentes de la colonia Chilpancingo, haciendo abogacía y organizando para cambios que crean un ambiente limpio y sano, condiciones de trabajo seguras, y dignidad humana. El Colectivo también sirve de recurso para la comunidad, ofreciendo información y capacitación a través de reuniones, foros, entrenamientos, y materiales disponibles al público. El Colectivo mantiene abierta al público la oficina de EHC en Tijuana cuatro días por semana.