Using Critical Media to Tell Stories in First Person: Undocumented Students at San Francisco State on the Presidential Election

By OSCAR GUERRA

Dr. Oscar Guerra is an educator, producer and researcher. He is an Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University in the BECA Department. His primary research interests include the re-creation of the Mexican-American experience in the United States through the use of critical independent media.

The United States will not embrace a true democracy unless people receive divergent sources of information. To do this, we, as educators and the field of media communication need to support local and independent multi-platform media outlets Access to independent media outlets is essential to ensuring that varied points of view are presented and re-presented to the American people. After the presidential election of 2016, some colleagues, students and I, produced a short-format documentary (12 min.) This documentary sought to reframe a distorted Mexican immigrant image created in part by the media but also by the lack of undocumented immigrant stories in first person. In this project, I interviewed six courageous and bright, undocumented Mexican students living in San Francisco and attending San Francisco State University (SFSU) as AB540/DACA recipients. AB 540/DACA recipients have the right to attend college in California and pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.

During Election Night, a group of undocumented students gathered on campus to watch the Presidential Election. During this student-led conference an uninvited guest interrupted the group and started insulting the students calling them: “illegals.” According to Race Forward.org, the term “illegal” is considered politically and racially loaded. On campus and in their everyday life the environment was, and has been, very tense and filled with uncertainty for these students. What they needed, and sought out was an outlet and safe place to express their concerns.

The organizers of the AB540/DACA Program at SFSU and I decided that a documentary would represent an interesting pedagogical tool. The purpose of this work was to provide an channel to express undocumented students’ concerns, to empower their voice and to be used as evidence for a call of action. These interviews were shot a couple of days after the November 2016 Presidential Election.

The documentary indeed served its purpose. We had very emotional interviews but after the interviews were concluded, the students expressed a temporary sense of relief. It was not easy for them to share such personal stories and confessions but at the same time, they were optimistic that their story could and would inspire other undocumented students and build a sense of community. By doing this, the students felt empowered even under a highly uncertain environment.

A call for action was also accomplished. Our intention was to condense various points of view from students into a short but precise video. Thus, this short format documentary was distributed around campus, among faculty, staff, and students. It also reached the SFSU President’s office and California Congresswoman Jackie Speier’s office and the Mexican Consul in San Francisco, Gemi José González López. After a couple of days, the group of undocumented students were granted an interview with the president of the University and after a couple of months, on Feb 7th, 2017, the group received a temporary Dream Resource Center on campus or “safe space.”

I work for the Department of Broadcast Electronic Communication Arts (BECA) at San Francisco State University and I am fortunate enough to teach at a department that encourages this type of creative works as part of my retention, tenure and promotion. My research has been well received by my departmental colleagues. At least two different professors incorporated this documentary as a required activity for discussion during their BECA classes. I have also been invited to go and talk to classes from other departments such as: the Department of English and the Department of Sociology & Sexuality Studies. Projects like this not only help my students but also help to enrich my community, my tenure process, and my collaborative efforts within the University and local government.

Dr. Oscar Guerra is an educator, producer and researcher. He is an Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University in the BECA Department. His primary research interests include the re-creation of the Mexican-American experience in the United States through the use of critical independent media.

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