Category Archives: Technology

Violence Against Latina/o Migrants

by Felicity Amaya Schaeffer

Driving down Main Street in Half Moon Bay several weeks ago, a short detour from the wealthy tourist zone into a residential apartment complex two blocks away brought me into the borderland between the middle to upper class white community and a mixed class of Latinos in this small Northern California town. We slowed the car to get a closer look at the hundreds of Latinos/as dressed in black outside a church. It was as if they were floating to the rhythmic flow of Aztec dancers, their bodies gracefully leaning back to release hundreds of white balloons into the sky, pleas for peace in a community united by rage over the recent death of an 18-year-old Latina by a white police officer. A Latino tasked with facilitating the flow of traffic walked up to us and I quickly rolled down the car window. He responded to my concerned look by explaining the events that led up to this funeral.

“The police are out of control in this country,” he said with anger rising in his voice. “They shot and killed a young Latina with mental health problems, shot her in her own home.” I found out later that the family called 911 when their daughter, Yanira Serano, would not take her medication, hoping the paramedics would arrive as they usually did. The police arrived instead. When faced with this woman running towards them with what her family say was a butter knife, a police officer shot her dead “in self defense.” The family and others wanted to know: Why didn’t the police use a Taser gun, or try to disarm this young woman? And I think to myself, this would not have happened in a white, middle class home. Is the racialized criminality of migrants so high that police are increasingly turning to guns to solve “problems” in Latino communities? The hostility of police toward migrants, like African-Americans, speaks to the disposability of certain lives, those who are criminalized, dehumanized, and stripped of the most basic protections and rights in U.S. society. At least these incidents are spawning widespread demands for rights and humanity by Latino communities. Young women and residents protested Yanira’s death, as they occupied the tourist zone where the sheriff’s office is located shouting for “Justicia!” through the bustling streets of the downtown area of Half Moon Bay.

This police shooting of a Latina is hardly an isolated event. The recent killing of a Latino migrant by police officers in Salinas and others in Anaheim similarly spawned protests, especially in cities in California where racialized tensions between Latinos and whites have a long history.[i] The Salinas murder, which happened only months before and was the third police homicide that year, ignited street protests where over a thousand people met in the streets of Salinas to demand justice, and an investigation of racially motivated police violence in the area. Unfortunately, media attention to this murder was drowned out by the shooting spree of a  Santa Barbara City college student, a wealthy young man, whose psychological profile captured attention after he tragically killed six innocent people, supposedly in response to a lack of attention from young women. It is the (racialized) innocence of the Santa Barbara victims that the media contrasts to the reporting of migrants deaths, who are criminalized as always potentially out to commit a crime. No one talks about the laws themselves that criminalize every aspect of migrant life.

Many of us are well aware of the rising deaths of migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border. Not only are migrants dying as they cross the most militarized borders, as well as deathly desert zones in Arizona, Texas, and California, but the pumping of funds into border patrol personnel and surveillance technologies are spreading this terror to cities across the United States. Secure Communities, a government sponsored program to educate and empower local police to take on the role of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), stretches how we conceptualize borders, transferring border zones from the imagined space between nations to a much more deterritorialized terrain that stretches beyond the nation and into the most intimate sphere of immigrants’ everyday life. For example, the United States contributes funding, border control strategies, and technologies to Mexico and Central American countries to slow the numbers of migrant crossings into Mexico and ultimately the United States. In exchange for negotiating a better deal for its own migrants in the United States, Mexico detains and deports Central American and other migrants crossing its Southern Border, the majority from Ecuador.[ii] In addition, drones manufactured by U.S. and Israeli companies patrol both sides of the border in the name of narcoterrorism, shifting war technologies to the U.S.-Mexico border as well as other borders around the world.[iii] We might want to think of this as another stage of global imperialism where technologies spread the power of the United State’s control over land and bodies, a form of governance I call “techno-empire.” The United States can control countries like Mexico from afar without having to literally take over another country. For example, by launching drones over Mexican territory, or selling surveillance technologies whose optics can be viewed from any Internet location, the United States keeps watch of not only migrants and drug cargo, but also the police and border patrol on the other side of the border. Given the use of militarized technologies to fight the “war on terror,” U.S. technological dominance compromises Mexico’s sovereignty to determine it’s own border policies and practices.

This militarization of the border financially supports high-tech companies as well as the prison industrial complex (as detention centers continue to expand), leading to gross profits made on policing bodies whose value relies on their de-humanization. Migrant deaths and deportations are calculated as simply the collateral damage of the war at the border. Hundreds of migrants have been killed by heat exhaustion, drones, and helicopters (especially in Texas), while surveillance cameras positioned in border patrol cars, fences, and across the border region track people like hunted animals to be detained, imprisoned, or exported from the United States. It seems as though the power to identify and police each other has spread through a state of exception that normalizes war onto racialized bodies charged with the potential to threaten, rather than enhance, American life. All are empowered – the police, hospital personnel, schools, vigilantes or “citizen border patrols,”[iv] and everyday individuals (“If you see something, say something”) – to call in (and sometimes kill) potentially undocumented individuals. In fact, Texas border patrol can legally shoot moving vehicles suspected of carrying undocumented migrants. Officers and helicopters are indeed mobilizing this right, leading to a spate of deaths, including the killing of a migrant mother who was shot through her car windshield, leaving behind her crying 18 month-year old in the front seat.

Ironically, securing the border is often justified through the protection of innocent women and children trafficked across the border, even as migrant women are demonized as irresponsible mothers due to a lack of English language skills and for breaking the law by crossing the border, among other reasons. Further aggravating the situation is the conflation of migrants with gang members, smugglers, and terrorists in the media, which has police responding to a racialized rage (and fear) that results in the death of migrants. It’s not only rage that drives these deaths, but the widespread disrespect for the rights and humanity of migrants whose very bodies have recently been found dumped in mass graves in Texas. While the law stipulates that all dead bodies must be identified in Texas, as in most states, it appears as though migrant bodies found in the border regions of Texas and other states are being dumped into mass graves without identification.[v] Similar to the lack of justice for the disappeared women in Juarez, many in Mexico and Central America search for loved ones with few resources to pay the thousands of dollars required to exhume and identify bodies discarded most efficiently in a burial site in Texas. And the rapid rise in numbers of children migrating without an adult across multiple countries en route to the United States, or left behind by a parent in detention who has been deported back to Latin America, or killed, should be evidence enough that the “war at the border” is creating many more problems than it solves. The walls erected at the border mirror the halted flow of knowledge about how migrants are being brutally stripped of humanity in the media. I am hopeful that migrants from around the world will continue to see themselves in alliance against the techno-virtual imperial state, and its militarized apparatus. And continue to rise up in defiance.


[i] A video of the Salinas killing went viral when caught on someone’s cell phone. A Latino man had entered a woman’s house in what they think was an attempted theft and rape (although nothing was taken and no one was hurt) and was caught stumbling down the street of Salinas. After the police followed him for two blocks, they shot, and killed him on the corner of a busy street in the middle of the day.

[ii] Many of these migrants come from Ecuador. See David Kyle and Christina A. Siracusa, “Seeing the State Like a Migrant” in Illicit Flows and Criminal Things: States, Borders, and the Other Side of Globalization (eds., Willem van Schendel and Itty Abraham, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005), 153-176.

[iii] See Tom Barry, International Policy Report, “Drones Over the Homeland: How Politics, Money and Lack of Oversight have Sparked Drone Proliferation, and What we can do.” April 23, 2013.

[iv] These are citizens who take over the name Minutemen in order to patrol the border and prevent migrants from crossing, oftentimes by seriously injuring and killing those who cross their path. See the Southern Poverty Law Center article, “InvestigatingDeaths of Undocumented Immigrants on the Border,”Intelligence Report, Fall 2012, Issue Number:  147. Accessed June 21, 2014.

[v], “Mass graves with bodies of unidentified immigrants discovered in south Texas cemetery,” Perry Chiaramonte and The Associated Press, June 24, 2014. Accessed on June 24, 2014:

Felicity Amaya Schaeffer is an Associate Professor in Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has a Ph.D from the American Studies Department at the University of Minnesota and an MA in Latin American Studies from the University of Arizona. Her book, Love and Empire: Cybermarriage and Citizenship Across the Americas, was recently been published by New York University Press (2013). Her new research interests examine visual and surveillance technologies, and the sexual criminalizing of immigrant bodies across the U.S. – Mexico border.

Mexican Panda: My Short Life in Film School

by Linda Garcia Merchant

TITLE: Mexican Panda SCENE 1: EXTERIOR, SAN JUAN TEOTIHAUCÁN, MEXICO, PYRAMID OF THE SUN, POST NUCLEAR SPRING 2450AD, EARLY MORNING As the sun rises on a Post Nuclear Spring in 2450AD we see a wide tracking shot across the horizon of San Juan Teotihuacán Mexico with the Pyramid of the Sun in shadow. As the camera moves in on the dimly lit and foreboding pyramid we see the slight movement of Mexican grizzly bears at play. As the camera moves in we see they are not bears but Pandas. Three black and white Pandas chasing and catching a fourth black and tan Mexican Panda, beating it to death, then throwing the Panda off the Pyramid. The dead Panda lands on the ground at the feet of another black and tan Mexican Panda who has witnessed the murder. His eyes meet those of the three murdering Pandas now wiping the blood from their paws onto their fur. The three Pandas being to climb down the Pyramid towards Mexican Panda. He turns to run away from the Pyramid and into the forest.

Instructor: You said this is a fantasy? Me: Well yes and no. It’s an experimental fantasy with a moral lesson. The Pandas are a metaphor, you know symbolic of resistance to difference in the simple purity of their new world. Instructor: You should make them elephants. The Pandas. Make them elephants and it will work. Me: I can’t see elephants being able to climb or chase anything on a pyramid. Instructor: You did say it was experimental? You want us to suspend belief for your argument? Make them elephants. Me: I don’t understand why I need to do that. The Mexican Panda could exist if the post nuclear climate changed enough to create and support vegetation and atmosphere necessary for their survival. It is a hybridized creature born of the combination of Coati and grizzly bear, both existing in Mexico prior to the nuclear holocaust. It is probable even if it is experimental. Instructor: You have to consider your audience. I don’t understand Pandas with moral arguments. I understand Elephants.

While this conversation never actually happened during my time spent as a first year MFA in Film and Video at Columbia College in Chicago, many variations of it did. It was always the same, defending a script, a character, my choice of language, a setting, or even my moral arguments. I often felt like the fictional Mexican Panda character I’ve created above, similar to but definitely not the same as the other film school Pandas. I certainly experienced the same symbolic outcome as that of my Mexican Panda. The opportunity to get a teaching degree has been crushed and I have been hurled from the academic pyramid.

I remember getting the call about being accepted into the program; it came three days after my interview. It was 2008. I was in Austin, at Martha Cotera’s office/shrine to Chicana Feminism, scanning photographs for Sylvia Morales’ new film. The tone in my voice made Martha turn away from her desk to face me and, with a serious look on her face ask, “Is everything okay?” I told her the news: I had been accepted as a first year film student with a Follett Fellowship, the top prize for first year students which was full tuition for a year. That night we celebrated. When I called my momma in El Paso, she began to cry.

Two years earlier I had created Voces Primeras, a documentary film production company to capture the history of pioneering Latinas. I had made my first film about women I knew who had worked with mom in the movements, Mujeres de la Caucus Chicana (2007). I had spoken to everyone my mother knew about what I was doing. They all introduced me to other people from community organizations and universities. I learned about MALCS, NACCS and NWSA. It was at NWSA where I was introduced to the idea of going back to school and getting a terminal degree to be able to teach. It would be a way to engage and encourage other young people to want to do this work as I could not do it alone. I applied to Columbia College in Chicago because I liked the idea that I could bring my stories to a place that could teach me how to tell those stories on film. I wanted to be a great filmmaker and I was beginning to think that was possible.

Becoming a filmmaker is like learning another language. You master a language as you begin to think in that language. As a filmmaker, you learn to react to events and circumstances by assessing the scale of drama or how the dialogue or storyline will play out. Good filmmakers are always thinking about their stories. Great filmmakers live them. I had ideas about films I wanted to do and voiced these throughout my year in film school. I knew my skills in marketing and promotion would make distributing those films possible, but I also knew I needed to learn the language and processes of production. I defended my right to make the films I wanted, challenging every suggested change to my characters and their storylines. I do not recall hearing in any of the of the introductory sessions in graduate film school that defending my art was not allowed.

I lived for the conversations with my classmates, learning so much about the structure of writing scripts and creating shot lists. Teaching them about self promotion, helping them find locations in and around the city. We encouraged each other about character development and emotional arcs.  I can remember so many conversations from that year since first walking into the film school’s doors at 11th and Wabash. The conversation changed completely at the end of that first year, after my Focus Film review, a requirement to continue in the program that was critical of my independence and that ended with a recommendation that I leave the program.

It has been five years since I was dismissed. My classmates have produced their thesis films and I have gone to their screenings. I frequently walk past the building that marked my period of brief promise within the academy. I do not often enter and when I do I am always expecting someone to jump out at me and yell “GET OUT. That building continues to be a reminder of my failure to connect to a community and process required for teaching. It is a scar that sometimes opens, sometimes bleeds and never quite heals.

So in February of 2014, when I went to the first screening of The Black Sheep Roundtable, the Black Film Society’s (BFS) film about their Columbia College experience. I went to support their work. I thought, how brave to break the code of silence and speak to the challenging nature of film school. I was still afraid of that code. For five years I had not spoken publicly about that year. I was frightened, embarrassed, self conscious, self doubting, and thinking that these things had only happened to me.

As I watched these students sharing their pain, frustrations, and rejections I knew that if I would not reveal my own tragic journey, I would at least stand up and say how proud I was of their bravery. I shared enough to prompt the students to ask to hear my story and to include that interview in the final film. I said yes, praying on the train ride home that this was the right thing to do.

I went home and to the basement to open the plastic boxes marked “Columbia: Do Not Touch.”  At the very top of the neatly packed materials was my dismissal letter. I sat on the floor reading the letter, class notes, and then my final paper on the Virgen de Guadalupe as Oppressor in the film Maria Candelaria (Xochimilco) (1944).

I went to the interview with BFS student filmmakers a few days later with my letter and final paper, along with newspaper articles about my work, posters from festivals and screenings, some awards and a journal article I had written. All the things I had done while in school. The interview went quickly. I got more emotional and personal than I thought I would.
It would be a few weeks before the next screening of the newly edited film that would include my interview. During that time I thought about how completely that short year of school changed my life. A month after I was dismissed, I began working with Maria Cotera on Chicana Por Mi Raza. It would take another two years before I felt confident enough to take on making a narrative short and even then, the validation didn’t happen until in a critical scene I knew we had the money shot. I was sure then that one day I would be a great director.

I went to the screening of the final cut alone. My stomach in knots and my heart leaping from my chest, I walked into the packed theater and saw a number of faculty, the president of the college and the chairman of the department. I sat in the very last row, three seats from the exit. I was sitting next to one of the professors from the application interview. I heard nothing and felt even less. When the lights went down and the film began, my mouth began to water and I felt nauseous, but I stayed in that seat and willed myself to watch.

It got easier, each time I came on the screen, what I said was appropriate to the points being made. By the end of the film, all I could think was, what really smart choices the director made about all the contributions.

The lights came up, the students read a statement of suggestions for improvement, thanked everyone for coming and then had a Q&A. There were two screenings that night and people for the second screening were milling around the back doors waiting for the Q&A to end. The president spoke about diversity and that the bigger systemic issues needed to be addressed. The chairman said nothing. A few of the faculty offered solutions that included courses already being taught and a willingness to work with the students to make changes. I said nothing.

The faculty left, a few more came in, the professor sitting next to me said I had done a good job articulating my pain. I told him that it was hard and it still is. He patted my arm and smiled and said it was good to see me.

The second screening, also packed, included a lot more community members and students, and colleagues I had invited. During the Q&A one of those colleagues asked the BFS students how they knew of my story. Reina, the president of the BFS student group, pointed to me and asked if I would like to share. I said that an understanding about diversity did exist at the school and it came in the face of a black man, a white man and a white woman. I said that I learned how to write scripts and direct films from these three people, who were willing to have the hard conversations about process with me. I said what I’ve learned is still gospel and is what has enabled me to make at least one award winning narrative short.

Lots of friends and family and colleagues that have seen the film online have said how proud they are of me for finally speaking up about this. I have also learned that the embarrassment, failure and self doubt I felt were wasted emotions, as I did nothing wrong. I was vocal about defending my stories and art to a world that insisted I make films that only spoke to a broader, mainstream audience.

I really want to believe that Columbia College will listen to the voices of its black film students. I hope the lesson learned is that all art has equal value. I hope that the stories of film students of color and the body of work produced by filmmakers of color, is given the importance and attention that other filmmakers receive. The students of color pay no less tuition to attend these schools. Based on this fact alone their demands for equal resources has merit.

In a fair and level world the academic pyramid would see the tremendous potential of every filmmaker walking though those doors. Students, eager to learn about technique and craft to then apply that foundation to their stories. Stories cultivated from history and imagination and manner just waiting for a space to become real. Even if the world is not fair and level, the administration could create a space within the college that supports the talents of all of its students. How many truly great films and performances could come from a space where we are all equal, have value and can learn from each other?

Ultimately the academic pyramid can and will have to accommodate both this Mexican and the non-Mexican Panda. We can’t all be killed off or made in to elephants.

Mexican Panda, running and hiding for three days through the wilderness, comes upon a small break in the jungle, that ends by a small pool. He sees other black and white Pandas with cubs, some of which are black and tan like him. He watches for a very long time before coming closer to the small but happy group, some swimming in the pool, others cleaning fruit. A girl Panda sees him watching from a distance and motions him to come closer. She is smiling.

Linda Garcia Merchant is an independent filmmaker and digital media producer. She has created several short independent films both individually and in collaboration with others. A native of Chicago and life-long Midwestern Chicana, she  is a 2014 Contributing Blogger on Mujeres Talk.


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