For most of us, the state-sanctioned racial profiling bill in Arizona is shocking but intangible. For one young man, it is all too real.
LuisCarlos Davis is a voice you've never heard, with stories that seem incomprehensible.
He has now become the first-ever filmmaker to gain the confidence of a coyote -- those faceless smugglers who charge exorbitant fees to cross people over the border into the United States, and his film is, unbeknownst to most Americans, at the heart of this immigration controversy.
The coyote, named "Chuy", allowed Davis to film him in disguise and Davis, not sure of how to disguise the man, offered one of those iconic Mexican wrestler masks.
"To this day," Davis says "I have never seen Chuy or the mask."
But Chuy's story is seen clearly. He debunks the entire racial-profiling effort that Arizona Bill SB 1070 addresses in which, according to Davis "certain physical features which are generalized to those of the Latino Community" will undoubtedly be used by officers when they decide who to stop and check for immigration documents.
Chuy tells Davis that an increasing number of his clients are not Latinos but Chinese and Russian immigrants who have made their way to Mexico in order to be helped across to the US. He recounts horror stories of pregnant women who have lost children crossing the border and explains that he understands there's an immigration problem but until someone finds a proper solution, his business will continue and grow, with more and more non-Latinos paying the big bucks to get to the other side.
Davis's film, 389 Miles: "Living the Border" is, according to himself, "a documentary that doesn't try to impose ideas and has many perspectives; it just shows the human side of people living the border." In it, he follows the varied but intersecting lives of legal and illegal immigrants on the 389 mile long Arizona length of the border, of rogue American militias who take it upon themselves to police the border, of official state border patrol police, and of the coyote himself for whom the border is most porous of all.
While Davis recognizes problems at the border, he knows all too well the depth of the ties at the border: at the twin town of Nogales, which was famously split into a U.S. half and a Mexico half during the 1853 Gadsden purchase, most residents had history and family on both sides and that has changed little in the last 150 years.
It's not a malicious lifestyle or a criminal one -- for many, if not most of the 80% of the Arizona town of Nogales who are Hispanic or Latino in origin, both Nogales towns naturally maintained their unification through generations of familial, economic and cultural roots and many people have lives that run on both sides of the border.
"There is a different world right now at the U.S.-Mexico border, a mixture of cultures, and languages and many human stories," Davis says.
But the story is sensitive and even the Nogales city film council has taken exception to it being told, according to Davis. It has been banned from the city film festival. In response, Davis has screened the film throughout Arizona instead.
A screening at the University of Arizona this week was filled to capacity, with many viewers watching the entire film while standing. "I could tell there's a need for this topic. It also feels good to have so many people seeing your film after the border town of Nogales closed the doors on the project," Davis says.
For his next screening in Phoenix, Davis has invited the Governor of Arizona, Jan Brener, as well as key police and political officials, including John McCain.
"I think that it is important to have the entire story and the entire issue humanized so that then individuals can consciously choose what side of the debate they wish to stand on," he says.
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