Common visions: Two tales about migrants and members of host communities using videos to bring ideas and people together

JAVIER ORMENO  |  29 MAY 2020  |  OXFORD MIGRATION CONFERENCE 2020

It’s 2018, Spaniards Teresa and Carolina are in Mexico City leading the STOP MOTION. STOP WALLS workshop with children between 9 and 14 years old. La Combi – Arte Rodante aims to promote reflection on human rights and environmental issues through film and visual arts. The development of more portable and more affordable technologies has allowed Teresa and other people like her in Latin America to give people the necessary tools to share their voice through video [1]. Video helps people, including children, express their ideas, sometimes overcoming linguistic barriers. Making videos triggers reflection and creativity, and it allows participants in the workshops to draw, act and narrate the videos. The stop-motion technique is relatively easy to learn and the use of fictional animal characters allowed children to portray abstract ideas. Guided by Teresa and Carolina, the children asked themselves ‘Why do people migrate?’. 

Their answer comes in the form of a story with some characters: An industrious butterfly moving to the US looking for a job and better opportunities; a bored dog that after having a blast in a Veracruz beach decided to stay there; a chameleon that moved to a country in which he would not be discriminated against or harmed for being different; and a guy returning to his country of origin bringing gifts for everyone. Having worked on migration-related issues, I expected the mention of economic migrants and refugees. The project’s inclusion of returnees and recreational migration was less expected, as these represent less visible and less conventional migratory experiences. 

 

A year later, the project We are community [2] brought Teresa and Carolina to Lima. With 860,000 Venezuelan people living in Peru (IOM, 2020 [3]), the aim of this pilot project is to strengthen and create community bonds between migrants and host populations. Sixty Venezuelan and Peruvian children in two schools were able to learn how to make videos and to collaborate in the creative process. 

 

After brainstorming sessions, the children decided what content to include in their videos. They focus on the migrants’ journey as a way to generate empathy and to learn about issues they had observed in their communities. The stories are not mere abstraction, they point to real people, to a particular person that has become their friend. 

 

The videos highlight that people experience challenges when they find themselves in different environments, where people speak and behave differently. The children identified that struggling to integrate is not a challenge specific to Venezuelans, but rather, is common to all people who migrate, internally or internationally, and to those who identify as different. 

 

The children, who previously had few or no interaction with each other, decided that it was not sufficient to identify issues. It was necessary to propose solutions. Through storytelling, dancing and singing in the videos, the children propose that their community should accept differences as cultural abundance, develop empathy, show solidarity and value collaboration. Beyond the actual videos, forming community bonds was the objective of the project. What is shown in the videos mirrors the empathy and solidarity that the children developed with each other during the collaborative creative process. 

 

We are all migrants

Johan starts his routine. In Lima it is not uncommon that sellers hop on to busses and sing while they try to sell goods. Most of the sellers are Peruvian, often internal migrants, but in the last several years there have been more Venezuelans. Johan has nothing to offer this time but his song, amplified by a portable mic and speaker. Five years ago, after hearing about the opportunities that the stable economy of Peru offered, he embarked on a journey to Lima. The polluted city was not as welcoming as he expected and he was robbed upon arrival. He got help from friends, but the only income-generating activity he could access was this one. His song is interrupted by Pold’s reaction. Pold yells that he has been working all night and wants to rest, rather than be pestered by this ‘migrant’. 

Johan and Pold form part of a small performance crew composed of Peruvian and Venezuelan professionals gathered by the International Committee of the Red Cross to raise awareness about xenophobia reported by the media. The crew rode 99 buses along popular routes. Pold’s rants provoked reactions from the public, who recorded them with mobile phone cameras and shared them on social media.

 

Since the assumption was that xenophobia is pervasive, Pold was afraid that the intervention would cause Johan harm. The summary video shows that the result was quite the opposite. Pold explains, ‘unlike on social media, where everybody rants, things are different when you are face-to-face with people. Most passengers and drivers sympathised with Johan. Sometimes in a violent way. It was me who was in danger’ [4].

 

Johan reports he was moved by all the support that he received during the performances. He believes that physical ‘presence makes problems concrete and generates sympathy’ [5]. He could not avoid breaking character when one young Venezuelan man was moved to tears by the enacted altercation. The passengers argued that everybody has the right to work. They also highlighted that much of Lima’s population is composed of internal migrants, and that most Peruvians have relatives living as migrants overseas. The intervention showed that solidarity prevails in real life because, in a sense, we are all migrants

These stories are highlights of migrant-led initiatives that rely on video as a means to promote greater social solidarity and raise awareness about xenophobia. I was drawn to these two projects while doing wider research on the intersection between performance and human rights initiatives. In spite of the efficacy and expertise of country based-organizations in Peru, there were but a few video projects that were sponsored by International Organizations as part of their response to population movements during 2019. It is crucial for interdisciplinary spaces such as this to reflect on the role of civil society and the international community in promoting public welfare through art.


 

Notes and references

[1] Gumucio, Alfonso (coord.). 2014. El cine comunitario en América Latina y el Caribe. Bogota: Fundación Friedrich Ebert (FES).

[2] The description of the project video in the link refers to six other individual videos.

[3] International Organisation for Migration (IOM). 2020. ‘Monitoreo de flujo de la población venezolana en el Perú, DTM Reporte 7’ (accessed on 15 March 2020).

[4] Gastello, Pold. 28 March 2020. Video interview.

[5] Escalante, Johan. 28 March 2020. Video interview.

Javier Ormeno

Javier Ormeno has a BA in Philosophy (PUCP) and an MA in Human Rights (UCL). He completed postgraduate studies in Humanitarian Diplomacy and has been part of the Diplo Foundation team since 2013. He is part of the Theatre of Transformation Academy. Between 2008-2019, he worked for the Red Cross in emergency operations and coordination around the globe.

His current research interests are theatre for transitional justice, and performative arts as an advocacy tool for consolidating Migrant and LGTB+ rights. In 2019, he was a contributor for the +Memorias(s) journal and produced a video performance for the OutFest Lima Film Festival in Peru.

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