Vol 2, Issue 7 July, 2020

Share this on twitter Share this on twitter Share this on twitter

Three questions with...
2020 Fellow Raúl O. Paz-Pastrana

Your documentary film Border South follows the migrant routes from southern Mexico to the U.S.-Mexico border. Can you share a bit about the origins of this project?

This project originated because I was unsatisfied with films in which immigrants are depicted simply as victims. So many films and media reports tell the story of immigrants as downtrodden pawns caught in a political tug of war for cheap labor where immigrants themselves serve primarily as b-roll background while expert academics explain the harrowing conditions.

With Border South I wanted to capture the great acts of humor and kindness, and especially the ingenuity that migrants must summon to make one of the most dangerous journeys in the world. I also wanted to make a film in which immigrants are the experts of their own experience. That’s when I reached out to anthropologist Jason De León with the Undocumented Migration Project. We were already filming when “Plan Frontera Sur,” the U.S. strategy to deter and detain immigrants at Mexico’s southern border, went into effect in 2014. The rest is history.

As an immigrant and filmmaker, has your personal experience had any influence on your decisions regarding which stories you approach, how you approach them, and how you ultimately tell them? If so, how?

The type of characters that I am attracted to are immigrants. At first this happened somewhat organically. That is the world that I come from, those are the stories and the people that I know. Somewhere along the way I became even more intentional about making films that feature immigrants and people of color because I saw the lack of representation in front of and behind the camera.

My approach is mostly observational filmmaking because it is sublime the way in which people react to circumstances in the present tense. The moment someone makes a choice, uncertain of its outcome, is the most heroic. It also allows characters to own their experiences and be the true experts in their own stories.

Given my own immigrant experience, I am fascinated about stories that explore characters’ sense of psychological and socio-political belonging and the greater forces that shape that sense of belonging.

Your art is geared towards inciting social change. How did you first come to see the intersection of art/film and social change, and how has your view of that intersection evolved throughout your career?

Art without striving for a better and new world is meaningless. There is no “objectivity.” Everything, whether you are a journalist or an artist, or both, is filtered through our point of view and upbringing. In Mexico and the U.S. I grew up seeing the ways in which the working class and people of color are exploited and marginalized and wanted to be a part of a greater movement for social justice. This intersection of art/film and social change became very clear to me through my work as a community and labor organizer in Denver, Colorado. During that time, I realized that activist films not only preached to the choir, but were very simple and paternalistic in nature, leaving out the complex stories of the people most affected by the work I was doing.

I wanted to make films that use the art of cinema to move away from the “perfect migrant” narrative championed by activism, and instead show our complex humanity. I feel this approach liberating, and also a better way to invite audiences to participate in the human drama unfolding in my films, allowing us to see each other eye to eye and evolve.

Hot Off The Press

No Small Matter

A feature-length documentary film and national engagement campaign sharing powerful stories and stunning truths about the human capacity for early intelligence and the potential for quality early care and education to benefit America’s social and economic future.

By: Greg Jacobs, Class of 2016

Learn More

Burning Down the House

Burning Down the House pinpoints the moment when our country was set on a path toward an era of bitterly partisan and ruthless politics. 

By: Julian E. Zelizer, Class of 2015

Learn More

Two Cents

Melissa Segura, Donna Patterson, and others on their tips for setting work goals.

1: 1. Writing down a time to start something instead of the goal of finishing it. 2. Not beating myself too badly when my day job or family commitments get in the way. As the Buddhists say, "Start again." — Melissa Segura, Class of 2019

2: For my more immediate needs, I rely heavily on electronic calendars and reminders. For longer-term goals, I use marker boards or handwritten notes for deeper visualisation. — Donna Patterson, Class of 2016

3: Make a deadline/find a deadline. Focus on one thing at a time. Do that thing fully and immersevely until you are exhausted of it; take time to step away; then explore if you can go deeper—do this over and over until the deadline reaches. — Mo Scarpelli, Class of 2018

4: I am a big believer in doing things incrementally and not binge working. So, I try to interact with my work everyday, even if for a few minutes. It helps you feel like you are moving forward. — Marcia Chatelain, Class of 2017

5: Be more reasonable than ambitious. It's better to do a little bit really well than to do a lot that requires tons of further work to get into shape. — Ted Johnson, Class of 2017

Two Cents

Josie Duffy Rice appeared on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah as part of a panel discussing what it means to defund the police, and spoke on Late Night with Seth Meyers about her work in criminal justice reform, the current fight for racial equality, and voter rights. She also filled in for Akilah Hughes as co-host of Crooked Media’s What a Day podcast for a day to discuss the pressing headlines across the country.

Assia Boundaoui won the 2020 Livingston Award for National Reporting for her PBS POV documentary The Feeling of Being Watched.

Chase Purdy's new book Billion Dollar Burger was reviewed in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and Daily Mail.

The New York Times Magazine won the 2020 National Magazine Award in the Public Interest category for "The 1619 Project," created by Nikole Hannah-Jones. Trymaine Lee, Reginald Dwayne Betts, and Clint Smith are among the project's contributors. The New York Times Magazine also won the 2020 National Magazine Award in the Podcasting category for three episodes of 1619, hosted by Nikole Hannah-Jones.

J. P. Singh edited a new book, Cultural Values in Political Economy, and discussed it as the keynote speaker at a Global Solutions Initiative panel event.

Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote a cover article for the New York Times Magazine titled, "What Is Owed," about the case for reparations for Black Americans.

Matthew Shaer wrote an article for Slate titled "Trapped: Most states let courts fine teenagers. The debt is taking down their whole families."

Clint Smith wrote an article for the Atlantic titled, "Becoming a Parent in the Age of Black Lives Matter." Clint reflects on this moment during NPR's TED Radio Hour.

Two Cents
Go To This

The top 3 New America online events we recommend you check out. Now.



Book Talk: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality

Join the Political Reform Program in welcoming Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson for the launch of their new book, Let Them Eat Tweets. Learn More


Garrett Felber, Those Who Know Don’t Say

Join the Fellows Program and Solid State Books in welcoming Garrett Felber in a conversation on his new book, Those Who Know Don't Say. Learn More


Latinx Economic Resilience During and After COVID

Join New America CA as they explore the needs of and innovative solutions to support Latinx workers. Learn More

Reading this month

I read Gornick whenever I'm writing something because I like to think reading her helps me write better.

— Suzy Hansen, Class of 2020

Learn More

It's now more than 20 years old, but Cold New World remains a benchmark for sensitive, smart, impassioned reporting on class and poverty.

— Matthew Shaer, Class of 2020

Learn More

Salinger dissects the process of writing about his dead brother, doing him justice. Brilliant and honest.

— Mo Scarpelli, Class of 2018

Learn More

Free Swag

Our monthly swag give-away remains on hold.

If you would like to purchase our Fellows' books, we encourage you to support our bookselling partner Solid State Books or your own local bookstore!

We hope everyone is staying safe and healthy, and that the Fifth Draft brings you a moment of contemplative peace and reflection.

Shop Now!

footer logo


We are storytellers who generate big, bold ideas that have an impact and spark new conversations about the most pressing issues of our day.

The three who put this together

Sarah Baline + Sophie Nunnally + Awista Ayub

Join the Conversation

Subscribe to this newsletter

Thoughts or questions?

Privacy Policy|Email designed by Iced Coffee Please

You are receiving this email because you signed up to receive newsletters from New America. Click to update your subscription preferences or unsubscribe from all New America newsletters.