In the short documentary Life Between Borders: Black Migrants in Mexico, filmmaker Ebony Bailey takes a close look at the growing population of Black families and workers seeking opportunities for a better life at the Mexico-US border and in Mexico City.
The Mexican border with the United States is the receiving ground for an unprecedented amount of Haitian refugees awaiting their opportunity to cross into the US. Several people stand in limbo after Trump took office, unsure if they will have the opportunity to cross. Bailey informed us that Haitian arrivals in the last three months have lead to an increase in church shelters and makeshift homes due to a lack of resources provided by the Mexican government.
Concurrently, Mexico City is the home to a growing population of Africans immigrants. The growing Black demographic has also sparked more conversation around Mexico’s own cultural and racial foundation from Africa, also known as the “third root” or la tercer raiz.
Ebony Bailey is multimedia storyteller from rural California. As a self-identified Blaxican woman of both Mexican and African-American-descent, Ebony is interested in exploring issues of race, cultural intersections, diaspora, and food justice. Life Between Borders is only her first documentary but the film converges several themes that speak to her passion.
We recently sat down with her for an interview on her documentary:
What is the time span in which you were in production?
I began my “pre-production (script writing, scouting, etc) in November to early December. In mid December I filmed my material in Mexico City. In the last week of December I filmed in Tijuana.
What are some of the biggest challenges you learned of through your interviews with African migrants and Haitian refugees Mexico?
I think language is probably one of the biggest issues. Though my interviewees spoke Spanish, most of the migrants at the shelters did not. That can be pretty isolating in a Spanish-speaking country. Though I will say that a lot of the Haitians lived in Brazil before coming to Mexico and virtually all of them speak Portuguese. I think if they decide to stay here, I could see them picking up the language pretty quickly and acclimating.
Racism and discrimination is also another issue, of course. I didn’t really hear the migrants in Tijuana talk about it much themselves, but I personally did hear unfavorable comments in the streets about “the Blacks.” It is very unsettling, but I know there are also a ton of people in Tijuana who welcome them with open arms. The Africans I talked to in Mexico City, who have much more time living here, did discuss discrimination more, from issues that seem as minor as getting your hair touched on the streets, to something more major such as getting detained at the airport.
I did my interviews before Trump came into office. One of my interviewees told me, “I’m 40% for staying in Mexico, 60% for entering the US.” I wonder now what those percentages are.
Do you believe the shift into Trump’s administration has changed the desire for Haitians to cross the border into the US? Why is that?
Yes, definitely. Most of them started their journey before Trump was elected, so they were pretty set that they were going to be in the US. But there’s been less and less assurance since he was elected, and I assume even less so now that he is in office. I did my interviews before Trump came into office. One of my interviewees told me, “I’m 40% for staying in Mexico, 60% for entering the US.” I wonder now what those percentages are.
Did you think you felt a deeper connection to your project because of your personal experience as a Blaxican woman in Mexico than someone that is non-black?
Oh yes. My background was the entire motivation for doing this documentary. It was a very personal project for me. Our intersections are not talked about much, and I think the more projects we have that illustrate these intersections, the better.
There were definitely some things that my interviewees said that paralleled with my own experiences. But also, I think that my background allowed me to connect more with my interviewees on a personal level. Everyone I talked to was extremely helpful and friendly. I was only in Tijuana for four days, but hospitality was so overwhelming, it made me feel like I was a part of the community for much longer. I’d like to hope that it shows through in the film. I can’t help but think that these connections were partly due to what I look like.
Ebony Bailey has been published in LA Times, LA Weekly and NPR and has worked as a documentary photographer in Peru, Ecuador, Tanzania, and Mexico. For more on her work, follow her on twitter.