“Ashley’s Story” pairs cinematic excellence with social activism. We want to release a 10-minute version of our film to distribute widely online and impact the midterm elections to protect immigrant families, housing affordability, food justice, and access to higher education.
Inclusion StatementWe are a group of experienced women of color filmmakers committed to youth, activism, and education, who live and work in California. From the perspective of a Mexican-American teen living in Watsonville, CA, we tell a story about human dignity in the face of economic poverty.
About The Project
When I was 17 years old, white students at my high school in Arizona threatened my friends and I (a small group of Latinx and African-American students) with a gallows pole in the back of their truck while waving the confederate flag. After the school threatened to expel us if we spoke publicly, we broke the story to local news media. We shut down the school for one day, inviting activists and scholars to campus to discuss diversity and social justice. The State of Arizona recognized us with Civil Rights Awards. The experience taught me that youth can enact social change, bettering their lives and their communities. As a college student, I worked for the UFW Strawberry Campaign in Watsonville, creating liaisons between UCSC students and women farmworkers fighting sexual harassment in the field. Later, pursuing a doctorate in Anthropology, I made “Bodies at War/MINA,” a 60-minute film that profiles Colombians who strive to rehabilitate after landmine injury. After its premiere at the Bogota Film Festival, it screened in Colombia’s 22 most mine affected municipalities, creating spaces for dialogue across the military/civilian divide. My vision with “Ashley’s Story” builds from each of these experiences--the power of youth to drive social change, the violence and discrimination in our schools and agricultural fields, and the resilience of people to survive and heal from trauma.
I am fascinated with immigrant stories of struggle and perseverance. I am a first generation Colombian-American woman of mixed Catholic and Syrian Jewish heritage. The Greco-Turkish Wars forced my paternal grandparents out of Aleppo to become refugees in Greece, sending them to migrate through Europe, Cuba, and eventually settle in Colombia where my father was born. My mother was born in Sincelejo, a rural town that found itself at the center of violent conflict during Colombia’s bloody civil war, La Violencia, of the 1940s and 1950s. They left Sincelejo and settled in Barranquilla, a large city on the Caribbean Coast. Although the geographic distance of migration from Sincelejo to Barranquilla on a map appears small, the cultural shift of going from a small town to an urban center is as profound as crossing oceans. My parents were first generation college graduates; they migrated to the United States, got married in Miami, and settled in Phoenix to seek better economic opportunities. They instilled in me the value of education and the possibility of the American Dream.
Feminists have long stated that the personal is political. Ashley’s Story is a character driven account that explores universal themes of how a young woman navigates family obligation and the desire to pursue her dreams. In Ashley’s case her dream is to be the first in her family to go to college. From Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Are Watching God to Aurora Guerrero’s film Mosquita y Mari, women artists have called attention to the everyday oppressions and desires of women; the political is expressed in the dailiness of falling in love, the burdens of domestic life, and the desire for personal freedom.
Most documentary films about farmworkers look at public personas–the political is in the rally, the strike, and the public speech. Ashley’s Story, however, focuses on the rising power of teens today, who in the face of increasing ICE raids are replacing their undocumented parents in the fields. Today, teens are taking the lead, fighting for a more just food system calling attention to how issues like housing affordability, neighborhood safety, and food access. They are reclaiming city lands for community urban gardens and growing food based on indigenous knowledge learned from their parents and grandparents.
California’s wealth gap is increasing at an alarming rate, ranking 38th out of 50 states in children’s well being with 2 million children living in povery. Santa Cruz has the highest child poverty rate in California. Yet research shows that achieving access to higher education helps close the gap of income inequality, ensuring a healthy, well-educated future for American families. Increases in income inequality have made it more difficult for resource poor youth to access higher education, diminishing hopes towards achieving the American Dream. We aim to spark a public discussion about food security, housing affordability, and youth activism as well as a feminist dialogue about how working conditions intersect with family obligations and gender expectations for teen women laborers on the Central Coast of California and beyond.
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About This Team
We are a group of experienced filmmakers committed to youth, activism, and education, who live and work in California from Los Angeles, Oakland, and Santa Cruz County. Many of us are members of the Brown Girls Doc Mafia, a film collective where we support each other as women of color filmmakers, changing the power structure in the industry. The artistic approach of our team is that ‘rising tides lifts all boats.’ We are engaged in connecting Ashley and Watsonville youth to resources while also recruiting a diverse film team. The Director is also working closely with UC Santa Cruz student interns with mixed documented status and backgrounds. The Director mentors the interns and the interns in turn mentor the activist youth in our film, creating a pipeline of Watsonville youth into the UC system. Ashley’s Story shows how Latinx youth, even when born in the United States, are unfairly burdened with economic instability that includes exposure to dangerous working conditions and challenges to accessing higher education. The story also shows the creative strategies, grit, and rich cultural heritage of Watsonville’s Latinx community, telling a story ultimately about resilience, strength, and dignity in the face of hardship.
Here is a list of our team:
Director/Producer/Cinematographer: Emily Cohen Ibañez
Producer: Dawn Valadez
Executive Producer: Aurora Guerrero
Social Impact Producer: Brenda Avila
Cinematographer: Gabriella Garcia-Pardo
Editor: Kristina Motwani
Interns: Paloma Cuauntenango, Jose Mendoza, Diana Flores, Sofia Jo, Rachel Quaill