Minnesota children return to their roots

A documentary follows 14 Guatemalan-American children as they return tand meet their families.

by Isabella Romano

July 2013 was a month of firsts for Jessica, a 14-year-old first-generation Guatemalan-American from Worthington, Minn. It was her first time on a plane, her first time going to Guatemala and her first time meeting her grandparents. 
“When I got off of the bus [in Guatemala] and I met my grandparents, my grandma said that when I hugged her, she felt like it was my mom, and she started crying,” Jessica said. “The last time my mom hugged my grandma is when she had to leave to the United States, and that was the last time she saw her.”
Jessica’s mother moved to the United States in 2000 when she was 20 years old because she wanted a better life for her kids. She is still an undocumented immigrant. 
Jessica’s family is one of 10 featured in director Luis Argueta’s film “ABRAZOS,” which follows a project to send 14 children from Minnesota to Guatemala to meet their families.
“It has been amazing to watch the kids grow,” Argueta said. “They have matured tremendously. One of the boys said to me, ‘I saw where my dad grew up, and now I realize
what he’s been through.’ And I think that is so important. But above all, I think they’ve lost their fear.” 
That fear stems from the reality that for these 14 children, at least one of their parents is undocumented. 
“It’s scary to think that one day your mom might not come home,” Argueta said. 
“ABRAZOS” is the second in a series of documentaries on immigration. Argueta was born in Guatemala and became a resident of New York in 1977. Years into his career, he developed a fascination with immigration issues. In 2001, he began filming short interviews with immigrants that were meant to be video portraits. He called the series “Voices of Silence.” 
In 2008, Argueta caught wind of the Postville raid in Iowa, where U.S. immigration officials raided the meatpacking plant and arrested nearly 400 undocumented workers.
Argueta flew to Iowa as soon as he could to collect portraits for his series. 
“The stories were impactful,” said Argueta. “There were so many women who had been detained, and their stories were just so powerful.”
Argueta was hooked. He returned to Iowa 29 times in the following two-and-a-half years and eventually produced the first documentary of the series, which he called
“abUSed: The Postville Raid.” 
At a showing of the documentary at a community college in Worthington, Minn., Argueta met Lisa Kremer, a community member who had become close with a number of
Guatemalan immigrants from her church. The two kept in contact, and nearly a year later, Kremer proposed the idea behind “ABRAZOS” to Argueta. 
Kremer regularly participated in mission trips to Guatemala through her church. One of her Guatemalan friends asked her to try to visit her family in San Marcos, which is
where many of the immigrants in Worthington come from. While she was there, she became inspired to reunite these families. If the parents of Worthington couldn’t go to see their families, at least the children — who were United States citizens by birth — could. So, Kremer pulled some strings.
“The most memorable moment was when we got the kids out to their grandparents,” Kremer said. “I had met most of [the grandparents] before, and to see them all so excited and full of anticipation and joy was amazing. They really thought that they would go their whole lives without meeting their grandchildren.”
The trip was life-changing for Jessica and her peers. 
“We went to my grandparents’ farm, and they were explaining about when my mom used to be there with them,” Jessica said. “It’s been a long time since they’ve seen her, so
the farm is like a memory for them. And now that I’ve seen her place and where she was born, she’s started talking more about it.” 
Argueta hopes that the documentary will open the public’s eyes to the lives of U.S. immigrants. 
“My life has changed from these face-to-face encounters,” Argueta said. “That’s what we need in this country. We need to lose the fear of immigrants and realize that they are a part of our communities.”
“ABRAZOS” film screening with director Luis Argueta
Where Parkway Theater, 4814 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis
When 8 p.m. Thursday
Cost Free