What started out three years ago as a small idea to unite, for the first time, children born in the United States and their grandparents in Guatemala has become an inspirational documentary that was given to Pope Francis last year and is currently on tour in the U.S.
ABRAZOS tells the story of 14 children from Minnesota who travel 5000 kilometers to San Marcos, Guatemala in search of their identity. Meeting grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings for the first time, the children discover their heritage and overcome the limitations of a broken immigration system.
The United States is currently home to around 4.5 million US citizen children with at least one undocumented parent. Even though they are entitled to the same rights and freedoms as all Americans, many of these children grow up with the constant fear of familial separation.
Lisa Kremer is the project coordinator of Familias Juntas, an organization dedicated to uniting children with their families in Guatemala, while shedding light on the issues surrounding immigration. She decided to organize the children’s trip south when a close friend asked her to visit her family in Guatemala on her behalf, as she was unable to go herself.
“That was the real inspiration because I felt the strongest sense of guilt and I was really struck by the injustice of that. The thought was: the parents can’t go, but most of their children are U.S.-born citizens and they have the same rights and freedoms that I do,” said Kremer.
So, after much planning, preparation and fundraising, and two preparatory trips to Guatemala, in July 2013 a group of ten volunteers accompanied 14 children to Guatemala.
“It was a moment like no other when these children were literally enveloped by their families of origin who had been waiting years to meet [them]. There were smiles, tears, and close embraces … it was probably one of the most incredible and defining moments in my life,” said Kremer.
Guatemalan-American filmmaker Luis Argueta travelled with the group to document their journey and highlight the importance of heritage; and thus ABRAZOS was born.
“This is much larger than one grandchild meeting a grandparent. This is part of an effort to reconstruct collective memory and repair the broken links of knowledge and tradition that are passed from generation to generation. The whole process makes me cry tears of joy and deep sadness,” said Argueta.
“In October I presented the film at the Universita Pontificia della Santa Croce in Rome,” he added. “As a result of that screening I was invited to present a copy of ABRAZOS to Pope Francis last December. As I handed him the film I said to him: ‘These are the stories of the immigrant families who opened my heart and changed my life.’”
ABRAZOS brings together the stories of immigrants in the U.S. with those of their families in Guatemala, the magnificence of the land they left seeking a “better” life for their children and the beauty of the culture and people they left behind.
“This has been a touchstone in the lives of these children, and it will help to define who they are and what they will do with their lives,” said Kremer. “Some of them already talk about a future that involves both Guatemala and the U.S., and they take very seriously their opportunity to be a symbol and a spokesperson for so many children like them.”
Due to the low literacy rates of many migrant communities, Argueta has produced a Spanish version (subtitled and dubbed) of ABRAZOS, which will premiere in June in Guatemala. Familias Juntas is currently fundraising to ensure all of the children from the film can attend the Guatemalan premiere.