"I was watching a documentary while you were out. It's called Which Way Home."
Of course, my response to Billy's statement was a lot of hand waving and hollering, "Noooooooo! I wanted us to watch that TOGETHER. That's why it's on "My List"!!!!"
He patiently responds, "I figured. That's why I only watched ten minutes and then stopped it. That one's going to make us cry," he predicted.
Oh man. Which Way Home follows a handful of boy migrating north from Mexico and Central America. Their mode of transportation? Riding the trains, also known as "The Beast."
As you can imagine, it was hard to watch. A ten year old crying in a detention center that he hasn't seen his mom or dad in three years. A fourteen year old sharing the horrors he saw while traveling. A mother of three with both legs amputated after an accident on a train.
The filmmakers allowed the boys to talk about their reasons for traveling and experiences in their home countries. I admit, their conversations were different than I expected, and a few themes stood out to me:
A desire for adventure
I must confess than when I've read about child migrants, I somehow imagine them weighing their options before making the difficult decision to travel North. Did I forget these are primarily adolescent boys?
There was almost an innocent boyishness in their decision making. Let's go on an adventure! Let's go to the United States! And they hopped on trains with the clothes on their backs while this mama is muttering, "What an ill-conceived plan..."
A longing for family
I was deeply struck by the family challenges these particular boys were already facing a home, feeling unwanted and abandoned. Some felt rejected or ignored by their families, so they felt the need to leave. Noticeably, several children had parents who had left for the States many years before. They were naturally following in their footsteps, seeking to know their fathers and mothers.
Several of these teenage boys spoke about their hope to be adopted when they arrived to the States, revealing a lack of understanding of the immigration experience. Of course, they also had Hollywood-induced expectations that were unrealistic of life in the States.
Lack of gang violence
The film, as I recall, did not mention violence or gangs in the boys' home countries at all. This seems interesting to me since so much has been said about its influence on child migration. I ask myself if the filmmakers chose to leave out that angle, if it just wasn't part of these particular boys' stories, or if it has been overhyped as a powerful influence.
However, I couldn't help but compare boys who make this journey with young men who enter gang life. There was some similar challenges as these youth felt they had no future, they craved a place of belonging, and they were willing to take high risks.
These were some of my take aways from Which Way Home. To dive into the topic more, I've been talking with a friend who works with migrant youth about an interview for the blog. You can keep your eyes out for that coming later this month!
Have you seen this documentary? What did you think?