Movie night at NYSUT did not come with popcorn, but it was loaded with hard kernels of truth as union members and staff watched the story of stymied, undocumented students unfold in the documentary film, DREAMERs Among Us.
The award-winning film reveals the background of students who crossed into America illegally from Mexico as young children to reunite with their parents. One young woman left the harsh life and poverty of Columbia to move here with her sisters and her mother. Most of her cousins do not even own shoes. Others left neighborhoods filled with violence and drug cartels. They have been brought up in America, attending elementary and high schools.
Now, they cannot access college financial aid because they are undocumented.
"Their parents came here for an opportunity to be safer. For many, they've been here since they were babies," said Sarina Wallace, a Middletown high school senior who worked on the film.
"This is about the struggle undocumented students go through," said Mario Pineda, high school student at Newburgh Free Academy and an editor on the film.
Like many students who hail from other countries, they faced language and cultural barriers.
Pineda and Wallace, joined by David Fernandez, are members of a social justice Youth Arts Group (YAG). They spoke to the audience after the screening, explaining how making the film helped students learn how to use a camera, how to cut and edit, how to interview people and how to use a microphone. The documentary has already won "best short film" in this fall's Hudson Valley Film Festival International and "best documentary" in the Greater Washington Immigration Film Festival.
"This is an example of a project that has transformed the lives of scores and scores of students," said Brian O'Shaughnessy, advocacy coordinator for the Rural & Migrant Ministry (RMM), a statewide non-profit that assists the disenfranchised, especially farmworkers and other rural workers.
The impassioned trio of students, who spoke during a film screening at NYSUT headquarters, believes undocumented students should have a chance to have a DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors) passed in New York because, they say, it is a human right. The DREAM Act would give these minors an opportunity to enlist in the military or go to college.
The most important thing about the film, said Wallace, is "advocating and educating." She believes costs have been greatly inflated about actual financial imact of the DREAM Act.
The trio joined YAG to take part in the Hudson Valley leadership program for high school students, part of the Rural & Migrant Ministry. The goal of the film, said RMM executive director Richard Witt, is "to spur people into action."
"RMM is important to us because we get our members to understand social justice issues," said Alan Lubin, retired NYSUT executive vice president and RMM board member.
DREAMers Among Us will be shown next on Nov. 8 at Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown. More information on Hudson Dreamers can be found on Facebook and Twitter.