HCC students had the opportunity last week to view the documentary Abrazos, which tells the story of 14 children -- citizens of the United States whose parents are undocumented immigrants -- who travel from Minnesota to Guatemala to meet their grandparents and other family members for the first time.
More than that, students had they opportunity to meet the director and producer, Luis Argueta, a native of Guatemala, who was invited to campus to talk about his movie.
The story shared by these children, some with siblings in Guatemala they have never met, is more common than many people might think, he said.
"There are about 4.5 million U.S. citizen children living with at least one undocumented parent," said Argueta.
Abrazos ("Embraces") is the second film in Argueta's planned immigration trilogy, he said. The first film was was "abUSed: The Postville Raid," a 2010 documentary about an immigration raid at a kosher meat-packing plant in Postville, Iowa, that resulted in the arrest of 389 undocumented workers, most of them from Guatemala.
"As you watch it, I'd like you to think about if there's anyone in the film who speaks to you in a personal way, either a story that resonates with your story or your family's story," he said.
The screening was sponsored by the HCC Language Studies Department and funded by a Bridging Cultures grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Argueta, who is now a U.S. citizen and lives in New York, told the audience in the PeoplesBank Conference Room that he had attended the University of Michigan on a full scholarship and earned a degree in engineering before embarking on graduate studies in romance languages and comparative literature.
"By then I had totally fallen in love with film and realized this was what I wanted to do," he said.
He moved to New York, where he worked in advertising for almost 20 years, making commercials.
And then, in 2001, 9/11 happened.
"I decided I had just a little bit left of my soul, and I'm not going to sell that," he said, "so I began to look for something that would fulfill me the way advertising never did. Although it filled my pockets, it didn't fill my soul."
He began interviewing immigrants in the New York area and in New England, creating a YouTube series he called "Voices of Silence." Then, in July 2008, he read an article in the New York Times about an interpreter hired by the federal government, along with 22 other interpreters, to work in Iowa to work with authorities processing the 389 undocumented workers who had been arrested in the Postsville raid.
"I went to Iowa, and I began interviewing people for my YouTube series," Argueta said. "I had planned to be there four days, but instead I stayed two weeks because each story was more poignant and led me to others."
"So I made 29 trips to Iowa in almost three years," he said, "and 17 trips to Guatemala, to understand why the immigrants in Postville had left everything that was dear to them."
Those interviews became the documentary about the raid.
At a screening of the film at a community college in Worthington, Minnesota, he met a woman who often traveled to Guatemala with her church on mission trips.
Argueta learned that there were a lot of Guatemalans in Worthington whose children had been born in the United States and never been to Guatemala.
She said to him, "What do you think if we took some of these kids to Guatemala to meet their grandparents?"
"I said, 'I think it's a great idea. I'll help you as much as I can, and I'd like to make a film about it."
That was Abrazos.
PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: (Left) Director Luis Argueto introduces his documentary, Abrazos. (Right) Argueto talks to ESL professor Vivian Leskes after the film.