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Movie sheds light on transnational families

The effects of immigration from Mexico on the people left behind is the subject of the "Those Who Remain." This documentary from 2008 will screen on Nov. 18 at the James Bridges Theater and is co-presented by the UCLA Latin America Institute.

GETTY IMAGES The effects of immigration from Mexico on the people left behind is the subject of the "Those Who Remain." This documentary from 2008 will screen on Nov. 18 at the James Bridges Theater and is co-presented by the UCLA Latin America Institute. Daniel Boden / Daily Bruin

Some children have not seen their father in 10 years; he regularly sends money home, and they know he does it to support his family. But it does not change the fact that Dad is not at home, Mom is left alone, and the family is not whole. This is the other side of immigration ““ the story seldom told.

Filmmakers Juan Carlos Rulfo and Carlos Hagerman tell the other side of the story in their award-winning film “Those Who Remain” (“Los que se quedan”). Tonight, the UCLA Latin America Institute will be screening the film on campus with Hagerman present.

The film, which won the Target Documentary Award at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival, tells the story of Mexican families who have at least one member working in the United States.

“It reminds the viewer that the people who are here in the United States working, whether documented or undocumented, have families and loved ones who are back there (in Mexico),” said Professor Randal Johnson, director of the UCLA Latin America Institute. “Immigration and migration have a tremendous human impact, not only in the U.S., but also in Mexico.”

Abel Valenzuela, a professor of Chicano/a Studies, explained that the issue of transnational families ““ those dispersed across two or more nations ““ is pertinent to Los Angeles in its social and economic effects.

“It’s clearly connected to Los Angeles … because it tells a story of a fundamental issue in migration that often isn’t told. And that’s the assumption that if you immigrate, if you belong to a family … that the whole unit migrates to the United States and while indeed that happens … it is also the case that foreigners don’t arrive as a family unit, but rather individually. There are terrible, personal and rather social consequences of splitting up a household for economic reasons,” Valenzuela said.

Family members leave to work in Canada, the United States or Europe in order to improve their family’s quality of living. This aid usually comes in the form of remittances, or money sent back to the family in the laborer’s home country. Remittances provide larger sums of money than financial aid sent from other countries’ governments. The weak economy, however, has even affected the level of money sent out of the United States.

“Construction … once a thriving market that provided all sorts of opportunities for Latino immigrant workers, has all but disappeared. Irregular employment has become even more irregular. It’s difficult for them as it is for everybody in this country,” Valenzuela said. “I’ve seen anywhere from 60 to 80 percent in decreases of remittances which is a huge drop in terms of actual dollars.”

Leisy Abrego, who received her doctorate in sociology from UCLA in 2008, researched transnational Salvadorian families. She explained that the transnational family phenomenon is an important, contemporary global issue.

“People from the Philippines are migrating all over the world. People from parts of Africa are migrating to Europe. People from different Asian countries are moving to Arab nations. The parents are seeking ways of survival for their children,” Abrego said.

It is not always the parents who leave their homeland. Abrego distinguished between different types of transnational families such as when the eldest son emigrates to help support the family.

Transnational families also include those that send their children away for educational purposes. In all cases, separation from family and nation is difficult and straining.

“Ideally nobody wants to leave their country. There are no economic opportunities in their country, and so they leave, and once they’re in the U.S. ““ it’s not that they don’t miss their families or their country, it’s that they know going back there means going back to dire poverty,” Abrego said.

The UCLA Latin America Institute is screening “Those Who Remain” as part of its monthly Mexican film series.

“The film series (gives) a new perspective on all sorts of issues related to Latin America,” Johnson said.

Johnson, Valenzuela and Abrego all lauded the film as a humanistic approach to capturing a lesser-known aspect of the immigration debate as well as a new window from which to research transnationalism.

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