(from L to R) David Martinez, Katrina Dyck, James Weber, and Ben Noll
What do Apan, a small town in Mexico, and the town of Goshen have in common? “Almost everyone in Apan knows Indiana or Goshen, but hardly anyone in Goshen knows Apan,” said junior communication major James Weber (Reading, Pa.).
Weber and three other students – junior David Martinez (Goshen), sophomore Ben Noll (Lancaster, Pa.) and 2006 graduate Katrina Dyck (Thomasboro, Ill.) – are changing that with their bilingual documentary, Fuerza, which means “force” in English.
Last March, the students learned that their proposal for such a film was the winner of a film competition sponsored by the Peace and Justice Journalism Project, an initiative of the GC Communication Department. With the top prize came $5,000 to produce, which they decided would be primarily spent on travel to Mexico.
But the question then became: where is the “feeder town” in Mexico for Elkhart County, or the place that many of the immigrants are coming from? The commonly known home of many of the county’s Mexican immigrants is Aguascalientes, the capital of one of Mexico’s states and home to one million people.
But with only one contact and at the suggestion of Martinez, Weber and Noll headed instead to the community of Apan, in the state of Hidalgo, at the end of the summer for seven days, accompanied by junior Benito Miller (Bolivia) who served as their translator. What they found amazed them.
“We went to Apan, Mexico, [to film] with only one contact, but she was enthusiastic and she had lots of ideas of more people to talk with,” said Weber. “The next day we had eight interviews,” including with the town’s mayor and workers at a plastic factory.
“I wasn’t convinced that this was the town to profile when we got there. We hadn’t really heard of it,” said Noll. “But on the first day [we] randomly interviewed a woman who had lived in Elkhart. One of the first people we talked with had done accounting work for San Marcos [one of Goshen’s downtown Mexican businesses]. In that moment it hit us that this was the right place to be.”
In addition someone who sold them a hamburger was wearing an Elkhart Memorial sweatshirt and another girl they talked with had gone to Chamberlain Elementary School in Goshen. More interviews came easily.
“It was a small city, much like Goshen. We would walk down the street and people would literally know who we were,” said Noll. “It was astonishing to see the connection between the two towns – more so than we expected, and more than we could even show in the documentary.
“There was almost a spiritual feeling to the trip – from catching buses to getting press passes for a Homeland Security press conference [on the border].”
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The force was with the students from the beginning of their planning. “We got lucky very soon into the project because it quickly blew up as a local and national issue,” Noll said. An immigration march at the county courthouse in Goshen in April with attendance of 2,000 people made the students realize how big of an issue it would be.
The documentary is about two small towns and how significantly they have both been impacted by immigration. “Our primary goal [with Fuerza] is to show the human side of immigration – the people who leave, who stay and the people in the community they arrive in,” said Noll.
For one member of the group, immigration isn’t just about other people though. “I am an immigrant. I am one of those stories,” said Martinez, who came to Nappanee, Ind., with his mother and brother when he was 10 years old to reconnect with his father and other family members.
The momentum continued when the students were ready to show their work publicly. The premiere of Fuerza was at a downtown Goshen theater on Nov. 9, including live music by the Chicago-based band Subatomico that had provided the music for the film’s soundtrack. Nearly 650 attended the show.
“When we opened the doors there was a long line. It was surreal to have worked on a project for a year, then to watch in a movie theater in front of a crowd applauding and laughing,” Weber said.
Since then, the group has sold and distributed more than 500 DVDs and have shown it at high schools, colleges/universities, community clubs, churches and even at the Goshen City Council winter retreat. Fuerza has also been accepted into IndianaActors.Com Film Festival in Brownsburg, Ind., and the East Lansing (Mich.) Film Festival.
Weber said, “It has kind of been running away and we are just trying to hold on. It has been a lot of fun, but also kind of scary.”
Now, a year after Fuerza was conceived, the group has not only helped inform the community about a larger issue, but has gained new understandings. “When I first came here, I heard people talking about a large Latino population,” said Noll. “I can’t imagine being unaware of that anymore.”
For more information about the Communication Department’s Peace and Justice Journalism Project, go to: www.goshen.edu/communication/pjj. It will be sponsoring another video documentary competition in the fall, open to students from all Historic Peace Church schools.