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Documentary screening and gallery exhibition highlight border towns, draw somber crowd

on October 8, 2019

Amidst chilly Friday night winds, people gathered at Lake Merritt Tower to watch Undeterred, a film highlighting the effect that the increased militarization of border towns has on surrounding communities. The event included a screening of the film and a gallery exhibition titled “Recognition: Labor Meets Art in Explorations of Social Justice and Identity,” which was open for its last night of public viewing.

The event was organized by National Nurses United union and featured talks by members of the Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN), a network of nurses who are deployed to disaster relief areas, or areas in crisis. These include nurses who are working in areas along the border and are assisting undocumented migrants and refugees with anything from basic care—like bandaging slight cuts and scrapes or providing insulin—to handling medical emergencies.

Over the last few years, the US military presence has increased near the border with Mexico. As a result, border towns have an increased number of checkpoints where immigration authorities are looking for undocumented people. This increased militarization creates tension with members of the border town communities, as they may also be subjected to random detention and poor treatment from law enforcement officers.

The event began with attendees mingling and enjoying colorful salads, vegetarian samosas, and chicken coated in a golden Thai curry. Heidi Hoechst, a lead member of the education arm of National Nurses United, made final preparations in between greeting attendees. “This film in particular shows us that what’s happening in the concentration camps, and what’s happening at the immediate border, is not just impacting the health and well-being of people who are migrating, but also of our communities—our neighbors, our brothers, our sisters, our fellow workers—as the border militarization further comes inland, and is reshaping how our communities are able to live and survive,” said Hoechst.

The film was released in 2018 by documentarian Eva Lewis, a resident of the town of Arivaca, Arizona, where the film takes places. The town has been affected by an increase in policing, as immigration agencies attempt to better monitor high-traffic areas where immigrants pass through on their journey into the United States.

Before the screening began, Ada Bajada recounted her experiences in the field working for RNRN. She described assisting a child in Arivaca who had recently migrated and needed medical attention, while also keeping the mother updated on the condition of her son. “As a bilingual nurse practitioner, I was able to translate for his mother to make sure he was able to finally get the care he needed, as well as provide temporary relief to some of her concerns and reassurance that she and her child would be okay,” said Bajada.

In the film, the effect of increased law enforcement on the town is shown through dash cam footage of those being arrested and through personal anecdotes told by people who have had confrontations with officers. In one clip, a woman is shown being forcibly removed from her car after repeatedly asking officers why she was pulled over. Another clip shows officers breaking the window of a man’s truck before apprehending him. Both of these people were released after nothing illegal was found in their vehicles and their identities were confirmed.

Some people in the crowd were brought to tears as clips played on the large projector. Scenes of arrests or of families being separated, and personal retellings of people’s interactions with border patrol officers, made the mood of the event shift from one of inclusivity and support to a more somber atmosphere. As the movie came to a close, the audience stood and clapped, restoring the tone of the event to an atmosphere of hope.

Bajada said she wanted to emphasize that situations such as these are everyday occurrences in border town communities. “Unfortunately, physical and mental traumas occurs regularly at the border, and these are just a few examples of the many stories we witness as these families and children flee real danger in their homelands,” she said.

As a compliment to their ongoing film series, NNU, California Nurses Association, and the national Nurses Organizing Committee put together a gallery show titled “Recognition.” Previously on display in Washington D.C., the exhibition’s closing night was planned with the screening of Undeterred. While not directly related to the topic of the militarization of border towns, the 20 artists, all from different backgrounds, presented pieces that spoke to topics such as immigration, feminism, climate change, migrant rights and racial justice.

The intimate space inside Lake Merritt Tower was filled artwork. From paintings, carvings, installations, and sketches, attendees paced back and forth admiring the pieces that depicted scenes of defiance, advocacy and solidarity—from a screen print of Colin Kaepernick kneeling before one of his games to a poster featuring panels of people protesting and celebrating their identities.

Susan Kitazawa, a retired nurse turned artist, walked around the gallery talking with attendees as her piece “All Of Us” was being displayed. Her medium of choice was a finger painting with aspects of mixed media such as lint used to represent hair. Her piece shows three people holding canes to represent diminishing eyesight. Two of the people in the hand-painted work hold signs that read: “Follow your dreams,” and “All of have abilities and disabilities! You too!”

When asked what made her apply to have her artwork be featured in the gallery, she said, “When I heard about the listing, it listed all of these groups, but it didn’t say ‘people with disabilities.’ I thought ‘Ah, they even left us out of the call of marginalized groups. We’re so marginalized they forgot about us!’ So I thought, ‘Okay, I want to get disability into this show.’”

“Everybody has things that they can do and there’s things they can’t do. Everybody’s got that mix and you have to find what you can do and do it,” said Kitazawa.

If you are interested in reading more information about the gallery you can read our previously published article here:

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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