If the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump wins the White House, a small view of the kind of reality Americans can expect to see play out along the U.S.-México border can be both a frightening and a terrorizing one.
Although Mexican migration to the United States has plummeted in recent years, those who have crossed the border in the past, and those who continue to take their chances and cross today, face the gravest of challenges.
“I was 11-years-old when I first crossed the border,” said Juan Ortíz, who now calls Sacramento his home and who prefers to keep his identity private. “I was young but I still remember the experience like it was yesterday.”
Ortíz left his small town of El Jaralillo, Zacatecas when his mother María decided it was time to make a “long journey” to see his father who had been living and working in the United States.
Ortíz didn’t want to leave his hometown so his mother made a lot of promises that seemed enticing to a young boy his age.
“I remember my mom told me that we were going to go to Disneyland and we were going to go to Hollywood to see all of the famous people and Magic Mountain— all of the things my father talked about over the phone with my mom,” said Ortíz.
His mother instructed him to only take a backpack with him with a few pairs of clean underwear, a few light t-shirts and a good pair of pants. Nothing more and nothing less. Both of them would carry jugs of water and they would wake up at the crack of dawn to be picked up by “friends.”
Ortíz didn’t suspect anything was out of the ordinary, so he did as instructed and was excited to finally be reunited with his father. He had left their hometown to live and work in the United States when he was five.
“Looking back, I should have known we weren’t going to go back to México. My mom had been nervous for weeks before we left and she kept making plans about meeting with my dad. I knew we were going to leave, but not the way in which we did,” said Ortíz.
One morning, an old pick-up truck stopped in front of their home to pick them up. They traveled for what seemed to be days, and continued to get dropped off and picked up my different people along the journey until his mother said they had reached the border.
“What I remember the most was the night we had to cross the desert. This man dropped us off in the middle of nowhere and I was scared but my mom knew what we were doing because she didn’t say anything. We were with a group of people and it was really cold. I remember my mom telling me to stay close to her and to not get out of her sight. What scared me the most was when she said that if something happened to her, to continue going North,” said Ortíz.
They walked all that night and slept for a few hours underneath some cactus bushes. They walked during the day and it wasn’t too hot since they were crossing a desert sometime in the fall. There were other adults in the group who were constantly worried, and Ortíz wondered if that had been the route his father had taken to get to the United States.
It had been about three days in the desert and Ortíz and his mother were supposed to get picked up by another ‘conocido’— a friend of his fathers who was supposed to bring them to Williams, a small town in Colusa County where his father was working.
Ortíz, who had never traveled outside his hometown, wasn’t scared during the journey, but could tell his mother was extremely worried. He was tired, hungry and anxious to get out of the desert. Then, one of the men in the group announced they had crossed the border.
“I remember he said, ‘Welcome to Los Estados Unidos.’ I remember thinking that there was no difference between both countries. And, I think it was because when we crossed, there was still more desert,” said Ortíz.
Late that evening when he and his mother were sleeping, they were awoken by a man in a pick-up truck who was looking for them. Ortíz had fallen asleep and the next thing he remembers was waking up to green fields and blue skies.
“I remember my mom was crying. She was so happy that we had crossed safely and for many years, I didn’t understand it all. It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I realized what we had gone through to get here and how incredibly lucky we were,” said Ortíz, who is now 33.
This is the PG-13 version of what he was willing to share. There were other parts of the journey he doesn’t want to remember.
Given all of Trump’s rhetoric surrounding Mexican immigrants since the start of his campaign, and with presidential elections right around the corner, there was no better time for Mexican actor, writer and director Gael García Bernal, who starred in movies like ‘Y Tú Mamá También’ and ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’ to paint a picture of the real struggles and realities faced by Mexican immigrants, like Ortíz, when they cross the border.
‘Desierto’ (Desert) is a violent thriller that takes place on the México-U.S. border. Bernal, who plays ‘Moisés,’ is one of several Mexican immigrants who pay a coyote to help them cross into the U.S.
For Moisés, crossing means everything. He wants to reunite with his wife and young son who reside in Oakland, California. In the movie, he describes how a routine traffic stop led to his deportation.
“It wasn’t right,” he tells his co-star Adela (Alondra Hidalgo), who is the only surviving Mexican immigrant.
The movie was written and directed by Jonás Cuarón, whose famous father Alfonso Cuarón won an Oscar for Best Director for Gravity back in 2014. Speaking to the media at the movies’ premier at L.A. LIVE in downtown Los Ángeles last week, Cuarón said the film sprung out of an idea he had over six years ago.
“It’s been a theme that has been circulating in my mind for years. I had been traveling with my brother through Arizona and we stopped at the Mexican Consulate. It was there they shared with us some of the horrible, horrible stories of what immigrants have gone through to get to the United States,” said Cuarón.
The stories stuck in his mind for years until he figured out a way to tell one, of the many terrifying stories he had heard.
“I felt this story is one that many people who have made this journey will be able to relate to. It will move a lot of people in the sense that it will show people the real struggles immigrants go through to come to this country,” said Cuarón.
The movie takes place in the desert where a group of Mexican immigrants pay a coyote to get them across the border. Huddled in the back of an old pick-up truck, they close their eyes with the hope their journey will be a safe one.
Halfway through the desert, the pickup truck breaks down and the group is forced to make the rest of the journey by foot.
Two of the coyotes on the trip negotiate who will take the immigrants by foot across the desert through a well-known path. Mid-journey, the group gets divided between those who can keep pace with the coyote and those who can’t.
That’s when terror strikes.
Sam (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who is best known for his role in ABC’s ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘Walking Dead,’ plays a terrorizing vigilante, who along with his companion, a highly trained German-shepherd dog helps him track down immigrants.
Driving around in an old pick-up truck that flies a worn-down Confederate flag and holding a glass bottle of whiskey in one hand, he spends all of his time in the desert hunting rabbits with his rifle and like any cold-blooded killer, shooting immigrants for sport.
The movie may be a harsh dramatization, or an unlikely story faced by immigrants, but Ortíz says he doesn’t rule it out.
“Through the years, I have heard every imaginable story about what people go through crossing the desert. Like I said, my mom and I were extremely lucky. But, getting killed by a racist person, or even a coyote is a likely story,” he said.
Bernal, a social activist who has spent a large part of his acting career touching on political and social issues exploring Mexican immigrants and the topic of immigration said he felt the timing of the movie was perfect giving this year’s constant stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice against Mexican immigrants.
“The desert is a place where people die a lot and where many immigrants are forced to make the journey. There is no other way. So, it was important for me to make the movie in that kind of landscape, to show how these people do it and under what circumstances,” said Bernal.
But if there is one main theme the movie aims to show, it is the idea that immigrants, especially Mexican immigrants wills sacrifice at great lengths for a better life.
“This is a movie that will make people realize what mexicanos – our people –are willing to risk to come to this country. It’s what makes this movie powerful,” said Bernal.
The movie opened last Friday.