WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL?
Usually in my weekly newsletter I try and explain why I pick the films that I do--why the message of a particular film is important, or why it's good filmmaking. WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL? requires a bit more storytelling than will fit into the newsletter, so I'm sharing it here.
In 2007, after three work project trips to Nicaragua, I participated in "The Migrant Trail," a walk of 75 miles from Sásabe, Sonora, Mexico to Tuscon, Arizona. Started in 2004, The Migrant Trail's mission calls us to recognize the precarious reality of our borderlands. It is a journey of peace to remember people, friends and family who have died, others who have crossed, and the people who continue to come. This walk bears witness to the tragedy of death and of the inhumanity in our midst, and it is walked in community, in defiance of the borders that attempt to divide us, committed to working together for human dignity of all peoples.
The walk began with a service in a small church in Sásabe. We prayed the Migrant's Prayer:
Loving and gracious God, have mercy on my migrant brothers and sisters and protect them from mistreatment and humiliation in their travel. They are identified by many as dangerous and poor because they are strangers. Help us respect and value their dignity. Touch our hearts, when we see them as they travel. Protect their families until they return home, not with a broken heart but with their hopes fulfilled. Amen!
and we took turns carrying three caskets to the edge of town, representing the thousands of men, women and children who have died seeking asylum and a better life in our country.
The 75 miles is walked in silence. We carried small wooden crosses that represented those who had died in the crossing. Many of the crosses bore no names, simply "desconocido." Someone at some time must have carried a cross that said, "Dayani Cristal." At various times throughout the day, someone along the line would say "presente," and each of us would call out with parched lips and tongues the name on our cross. I carried the name of Margarita, and during the week, I wrote this for her.
I made a new friend this week.
I thought it might happen. Before leaving Portland I checked out the Trail on the Internet.
New friends, fellowship – a high point of the Migrant Trail experience.
But this friend was unexpected.
Her name is Margarita Guerra-Escolara and it is written on two sticks of wood that
I picked up on Monday.
The wood is painted white for the purity of her soul.
It is nailed in the shape of a cross for the burdens she carried.
I am awkward at first with my new friend.
Margarita, what a beautiful name, I tell her. I’m sorry I don’t speak your language.
I stutter a little and step on my tongue.
I am here to walk your trail, but I can’t imagine your journey.
You see, Margarita, I am a woman of privilege.
Look, my skin is white; I own property; I have papers.
On Sunday I will leave this barren desert and retreat to my lover’s arms in a
cool, wet land filled with strong rivers, deep forests, snow-covered mountains.
I am embarrassed by my abundance. How can I walk with you?
Don’t worry, Margarita tells me. We can talk in many ways.
My skin is brown and I’ve known only poverty, but we are not so different.
I, too, have known the comfort of a lover’s arms.
I am a grandmother like you.
Manolito, mi nieto, how I laughed and cried the day he was born.
He is such a good boy, a smart boy. He will be a doctor someday.
All day Margarita and I pass the time chatting.
Sometimes I complain, my feet hurt; the sun is so hot; my head is baking.
She says, compañera, you will rest just a little further on; take another step.
At night she lies next to me under stars and a generous full-moon.
We tell each other secrets. I will pray for you she tells me. Thank you she tells me.
Margarita’s cross broke today.
I am sorry I tell her, angry at my clumsiness.
Don’t worry, she says, it is only broken wood; not like broken promises or
See, the wood, it can be fixed.
And as for the dreams,
take me with you, tell my story, keep on walking,
and someday, someday they all will come true.
WHO IS DAYANI CRISTAL? is for me "Who is Margarita Guerra-Escolara?"--the woman I never knew and could only imagine. The film is being screened for Margarita, for those who died uknown and without names, for the thousands of children who are at our border and who have traveled far to move away from death towards a better life. This screening is for who work tirelessly to bring changes to our immigration system. It is for all of us in the hopes that we begin to understand the need for true reform, and that our place and our privilege is pure luck, and without it, we could as easily be "desconocido," strangers.