Q and A in Mac Dutra Plaza

Half Moon Bay City Councilman Joaquin Jimenez, who advocates for farmworkers on the coast, speaks at Mac Dutra Plaza following a screening of the film, “Strength: Documenting the Asylum Seeker.” Emma Spaeth / Review

In celebration of Hispanic American Heritage Month, which begins on Sept. 15, the monthly Make It Main Street event in downtown Half Moon Bay included a special screening of “Strength: Documenting the Asylum Seeker,” a film directed by Oscar Guerra at the Half Moon Bay Odd Fellows lodge.

The film sheds light on the asylum seekers coming to the United States from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador and why they flee their home countries. The film provided background for viewers about the economic, social and political issues in Central America as well as the stories of immigrants who were driven from their homes in search of safety for themselves and their families.

With the context of historical information and compelling stories, “Strength: Documenting the Asylum Seeker” helps viewers understand the reasons a person would leave their home and culture to face the dangerous journey and consequences of illegal immigration. Guerra’s film legitimizes the struggles of immigrants and documents the stories of those who have attempted it.

“It’s so nice to have an event like this in Half Moon Bay,” said Julie Mell, founder of Beach Break Entertainment, who organized the question-and-answer session at Mac Dutra Plaza after the film screening.

Mell also shared a note from Guerra, who was unable to attend the screening, about the impact of the film.

“(Guerra) wants the film to have a positive impact on immigration policy,” said Mell. “Locally, he hopes to better inform people here in the Bay Area. The movie has made it all the way to (U.S. Rep.) Jackie Speier’s office and his goal is to show this piece to Congress. After Kamala Harris’ commentary in June saying, ‘Do not come,’ there’s definitely a discussion that needs to continue and awareness to be brought.”

Along with notes from the film producer, the Q and A hosted City Councilman Joaquin Jimenez, who is also the farmworker program and outreach director at Ayudando Latinos A Soñar in Half Moon Bay.

Jimenez has worked with the Coastside community for more than 20 years. His work with the organization started after Bay City nursery closed its doors and more than 200 members of the local community lost their jobs as a result. Jimenez then started the Labor Force Program through Ayudando Latinos A Soñar to connect community members with local jobs.

In February 2020, Jimenez visited a migrant camp in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, a city in northeastern Mexico.

“One of the first things we saw was the camp, only a little bit bigger than (Mac Dutra Plaza),” Jimenez said about their first day there. “There were a lot of tents. The first families that got deported to Mexico, that’s where they slept. I had a conversation with one of the families and the husband shared with us that the first night that they were in Mexico, they had nothing. Their two daughters slept under the table. They used cardboard to protect the daughters from the elements and he and his wife, they slept on the table.”

Jimenez explained that there were between 3,000 and 4,000 families staying there.

“They shared with us that their spirits were low after being deported from the United States to Mexico, something that should never have happened,” Jimenez said. “It was heartbreaking when we passed through. ... I like camping but I can only stay in a tent for so long. Five days is more than enough for me to be in a tent and right now, thinking about families that had to stay in these tents, no bigger than maybe seven feet by seven feet, for a family of four or five it’s hard to think about them being there for close to a year. On top of

that, there were many things happening. There was fear from right across from the park.”

Three days prior to their arrival there was a drive-by shooting perpetrated by one of the cartels. There were still bullet holes in the walls when they arrived.

“Some people ask, why would you leave home knowing that you could end up in a place like this?” Jimenez said. “Because it’s an opportunity to be able to survive. If they were to stay home,

their families would not be able to survive. So they took that opportunity to have a future. That’s why many families migrated and many families are still migrating, for the opportunity to have a future."

Emma Spaeth is a staff writer for the Half Moon Bay Review covering community, arts and sports. Emma grew up in Half Moon Bay before earning a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Oregon.

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