Wednesday, August 15

Reel Roots: UCLA graduate student Roberto Gudino visits Mexico City to connect with its youth through film

The original version of this article contained an error and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for additional information.

Being in Mexico City for the first time sparked all his senses into absorbing the sounds of colloquial Spanish conversation, the city bustle of the busy metropolis and the fragrant aromas from the street vendors.

“(The) neighborhood (I am staying at) is a provincial town, so it’s very old. Walking down (in) the middle of the night and seeing people out in conversation … you really felt like (you were part of) a community,” said Roberto Gudino, a UCLA graduate student in the Department of Film, Television and Digital Media.

As a recipient of the United States-Mexico Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange’s Fulbright-García Robles Fellowship, Gudino will continue to stay in Mexico for the next nine months to serve as a cultural ambassador, working hands-on with two community youth groups, Jovenes en Accion (Youth in Action) and the Universidad Latinoamericana (Latin American University), bringing them together with UCLA students.

His project will focus on training low-income youth in Mexico City to learn the craft of cinematography and to build a web series film project that documents issues, like underage drinking, that are relevant to their peers. The trip is fully funded by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. As a separate component to this web series, Gudino will also catalogue his trip through a personal video log posted to his website.

“The goal is to actually engage an audience online and to get them interested in the youth groups. Parts of these videos (will be about) … cultural attraction, food (and) how to get around the city,” said Gudino. “I want to share the rich culture and heritage with others. What better way (to do this than) through video?”

A distinguishing aspect of Gudino’s application was not only his goal of creating the web series but also his proposal to bring fellow colleagues, UCLA graduate students, to teach cinematography with him.

William McDonald, chair of the UCLA Department of Film, Television and Digital Media and mentor to Gudino, mentions this aspect as being specific to Gudino’s project and a great way to create a metaphorical and literal bridge to the youth of Mexico.

“When he said he was interested in applying to the Fulbright, we thought, “˜What does it mean? How can we shape his proposal?’ We spent some good hours strategizing (and) that was the part that Roberto took to heart most,” McDonald said.

A.P. Gonzalez, professor emeritus in the Department of Film, Television and Digital Media and another mentor to Gudino, has worked personally with four Fulbright scholars in the past and has seen how these experiences have dramatically changed the perspectives of students.

He said the emphasis of the Fulbright exchange lies within the cultural exchange with people, philosophy and ways of life.

“Whether or not Fulbright sets up (the exchange) consciously, they must realize that they use the word “˜ambassador’ a lot. They must realize that these people who are Fulbright scholars are bringing back to their own country, different ways of thinking and their connections,” said Gonzalez. “The best thing is that people take from the program more than what the project is supposed to achieve.”

Growing up in the border town of Douglas, Ariz., Gudino always had the desire to explore the world outside of his small hometown. Gudino’s world opened up when he spent his undergraduate years in the city of Tuscon studying at the University of Arizona.

“I’ve never lived outside the United States; basically I’ve lived in Arizona and California my whole life,” Gudino said. “My mom has always talked to me about (Mexico City), which sounded like the Mecca of Mexico with all these landmarks. Kind of like how somebody would talk about the Capitol (or) Mt. Rushmore, places I have only seen in pictures.”

But Gudino hadn’t always seen the Fulbright Fellowship or even higher education as part of his future prior to his acceptance to the University of Arizona, where his experiences opened up opportunities that he had never known about, much less considered.

“I realized the importance of education through looking at the track of where my life was headed at the time … (when) I was working three jobs. I was still in this small border town … but I thought there was more (and that) maybe my life could be different,” Gudino said. “Then I got accepted into the University of Arizona. I was in a new city and my life opened up.”

In much the same way, Gudino hopes to use education through film to connect with the youth of Mexico City. Gudino said that he was careful to maintain an objective standpoint when connecting with a community of students he had had no interaction with before.

Despite the specific steps of his project, Gudino felt that the subject of these web series needed to be a relevant issue, determined by the youth themselves.

“When I came to Mexico, another thing I didn’t want to do was to assume the issues they were dealing with,” Gudino said. “(I wanted to) find out what social issues are important to them, creating advocacy for issues that come up as I’m doing these workshops.”

Although Gudino admits that the issues aren’t immediately obvious to him right now, he is learning more and more through interaction with students in his workshops over time. This unpredictable nature of how Gudino’s project will turn out serves as his driving force for the remaining nine months.

“I had heard stories about the taxi and how you have to be careful with your stuff (when you travel to Mexico) so I was very conscious of that,” Gudino said. “But (it was great) having these preconceived notions and none of them proved true … It was a great way to welcome me to the city.”

Correction: Gudino attended the University of Arizona in Tuscon.

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