novela migrante tijuana periodista yolanda morales1

Accessing school, a soap opera drama: A novel about migration is performed in Tijuana

Esta entrada también está disponible en: ES (Spanish)

After investigating and registering unbelievable cases, the staff at Espacio Migrante in Tijuana, led by Paulina Olvera Cañez, decided to evidence these stories through a documentary and a soap opera. This is a work by Tijuana journalist Yolanda Morales.

Violence, rejection, poverty, and abandonment seem to not be enough situations affecting the lives of migrant populations in the border city of Tijuana. To this is added the lack of basic services such as education, whose enrollment process and possibility of entry becomes a real ordeal, mainly for those who decide to stay outside of shelters.

People recording a soap opera with migrants in Tijuana, Baja California.
Credits: Migrant Space

Share the stories of migrant families and the challenges they face in enrolling their children in schools, two of the goals of this project.

“The goal of this telenovela is to share the real stories of migrant families and the challenges they face in enrolling their children in schools here in Tijuana. At the Migrant Space, we provide support to families to enroll their children.” And added that in Baja California there is the Binational Migrant Education Program (PROBEM), a program that supports migrant students on the border between Mexico and the United States.

What we wanted to show was the drama, problems, and invisibility that children experience in the context of mobility when the family migrates.

Paulina Olvera Cañez, director of Migrant Space

She said about the situation in Tijuana that there are many families living in the city and their children usually try to attend the nearest school to their home. So they don’t approach PROBEM and face school rejections alone because they don’t have documents, because they don’t speak Spanish, or for different reasons, even discrimination.

A woman filming a Haitian migrant soap opera in Tijuana.
Credits: Migrant Space

Real testimonials turned into scripts

The activist explained that during the past month of April they began a series of workshops where they listened to the experiences they had when trying to access school.

“Last year we conducted a study on access to education in Tijuana, Monterrey and Ciudad Juárez, so with this and the work of Espacio Migrante we saw that there is a problem with access to education. Now that so many families are arriving, there are many children who have been out of school for two or three years, but they are minors who have a right to education.”

Olvera Cañez detailed that “we made a collaboration between Espacio Migrante, the University of California in San Diego (UCSD), the Network of Rights and Mobilities and film students from the University Center of Tijuana. In addition to the film directors Reinaldo Escoto and Ebony Baley from California, who helped us turn the stories into a screenplay and gave a theater workshop.”

The material is currently in the post-production stage and they are seeking funds to produce two versions: one is a movie that they plan to submit to film festivals and shelters, and the other is the telenovela they aim to upload to a platform in short chapters, each lasting 5 to 10 minutes. The idea is that both materials will be ready soon

Women preparing for the telenovela at the Migrant Space in Tijuana
Credits: Migrant Space

New care challenges

Typically, migration is thought of as only temporary or that it is only men who are seeking work. However, in Tijuana, there are women who live with their children. With the arrival of the Haitian population in recent years, the presence of university-aged youth seeking a place in the classrooms is noticeable.

These new migrant groups, mostly families, have added the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to their challenges. All these factors are stories that need to be told so that awareness is raised regarding the issue and its social impact.

Paulina Olvera shares that the telenovela was produced with a didactic background, as it serves as an informative tool. “In it, we tell migrants how to do it.” Sometimes, parents do not know where to go, they think they will be in Tijuana for two or three months and they do not look for a school for their children. “It’s a fact that the wait time is getting more prolonged, particularly with the severe policies of the United States,” Paulina declared.

A community generator

There are various activities generated among migrants with the aim of integrating them. That’s why the production process of this documentary became a meeting point, artistic expression, and talent development.

Esther Morales, a migrant who has been deported more than 9 times, currently has a project called: Hot Food (“Comida Calientita” in Spanish). Additionally, she has a kitchen named “La Antigüita” located in the Central Zone of Tijuana. She hails from Oaxaca and also takes part in the telenovela, the first of its kind in the area.

“I participate in the migrant novel that was filmed here. I’m a boss who arrived here and I have to send her off, they thought of me because of my history as an activist and cook. I feel very happy, very content, it means that it is being humanized and helping our migrant brothers.”

“No one ever thought of leaving their country (…) we had problems with people, my dad was killed, there were persecutions.”

Jessie, a Haitian migrant residing in Tijuana.

In the previous workshops, the families from the shelter participated and some helped create the set design.

Jessika is a 25-year-old Haitian twin who studies Psychology in Tijuana. She, like her sister Jessie, faced academic rejection and discrimination.

“In the telenovela, I am in charge of wardrobe and makeup, and I am also an actress.” The telenovela is a work that is both strong and painful at the same time. “Every time we bring out a scene (we do it) with a lot of joy because we are the voice that will be heard by everyone,” said Jessika. They want to make visible what really happens with the migrant community when they try to integrate into society through this initiative. It’s not easy to access education, justice, or medical services.

“It’s sad to leave your country, nobody ever thought about leaving their country, it depends on the country’s problems, we had problems with people, my dad was killed, there were persecutions,” Jessie stated.

Women getting made up to act in the migrant telenovela in Tijuana.
Credits: Migrant Space Tijuana

The Clinical Legal Coordinator of Migrant Space, Tania García, explained that “the drama is real, they are the obstacles that people live, the frustrations, here we are going to tell tragedies, but without revictimizing”. She also added that they aim to “raise awareness, sensitize school authorities and society about what people who are trying to access such a basic right as education are living”.

“In Tijuana there are over 15 shelters, Espacio Migrante attends especially to black and African communities.” They are currently preparing to receive hundreds of Haitians who are on their way to this border.

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