Filmmaker Alex Cortez has seen the stories of the Repatriation as no one else has. In compiling dozens of interviews for a documentary on los repatriados, he has spoken face to face with more deported members of the Mexican community than anyone else.
He has done most of his work close to his home near Los Angeles, where the nation’s largest concentration of los repatriados resides. In May, Cortez, who is 30, came to Detroit to uncover more stories here. On the day before he returned to California, Cortez spoke of his work in progress.
“You’d be surprised about interviewing them,” Cortez says. “It’s like, ‘I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to talk.’ Then I’ll tell them, ‘This isn’t for yourself. This is for your family. This is for history. When you die, your story dies with you.’
“So I’ve either had to charm my way or somehow convince them. And they start talking and in the middle they start crying. And it becomes kind of cathartic. All the pressure is out. It opens up communication.”
What Cortez has heard confirms reports of government abuse and deception in the deportation of thousands of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.
“People were pressured. People were picked up off the street. There were two cousins walking and a … cop said, ‘I know you signed up to go back to Mexico.’ And they took one of them and the other cousin never saw him again. He told me he assumed he was taken to the train station and taken to Mexico.
“People in plainclothes knocked on doors and said, ‘You’re coming with us.’ The Mexicans took what they had on their backs and got thrown in jail for a couple of days. They were told their stuff would be sent to them at the border. They’d wait three of four days and then say, ‘Forget about it.’ Those stories are really common.”
Cortez says he has conducted about 60 interviews and wants to emerge with a feature-length film that he hopes will eventually end up on public television. One thing he is sure about. He is not getting rich from his work on the project.
“There’s no money, no wages. But it’s a story that needs to be told. There are stories here that haven’t been told at all. I’m hoping that this will open up more doors. The Native Americans have their Trail of Tears. This is another one.”Tom Schram is co-chair of the National Writers Union of Southeast Michigan. Send comments to [email protected]