American mothers fight for immigrants’ rights in Split at the Root, Linda Goldstein Knowlton’s powerful SXSX doc. Executive produced by Rosario Dawson and Lana Parrilla, it’s an intimate and inspiring portrait of activism.
Under the Trump administration, immigration policies resulted in children being separated from their parents. One mother was Yeni González, whose story was aired on the radio. In order to be reunited with her kids, she needed someone to pay her bond, and drive her from Arizona to New York. New Yorker Julie Schwietert Collazo was listening, and she did just that. She connected with a network of women all over the States, who were prepared to coordinate a caravan of cars to take Yeni to her children. With the support of Julie’s husband Francisco, Immigrant Families Together (IFT) was born, and this documentary follows their progress.
Without being able to film in courtrooms or detention centers, Knowlton leans heavily on talking heads and actual footage of the women and families involved. Their personalities are as compelling as their stories. Nearly all the IFT crew are mothers who work full time: compassionate people who see that something needs doing, and get stuck in. “Only women would do this work for free,” one claims. Co-founder Julie Schwietert Collazo is a powerhouse and a terrific talker, as ready to talk about her position of white privilege as she is about the experiences she’s seen in court, where judges may have little understanding of life in Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras.
“It’s so heartbreaking that the state attorney is sitting there googling in the middle of proceedings to try to discredit her,” she says of one of the asylum cases. “And so – what, the first thing that pops up, regardless of the source, is somehow now more credible than somebody who’s narrating her own life experience?!”
Rosayra Pablo Cruz, aka Rosy, is another engaging subject. After being separated from her two sons for 81 days, she became a passionate advocate for women who remained in detention. This follows her story closely, and also benefits from the charisma of her younger son, Fernando, who wipes tears from his eyes as he describes how much he adores his mother. There’s another tearful scene when Rosy meets an immigrant called Brenda, the pair hugging in recognition of their shared trauma. The human cost of the ‘zero tolerance’ policy is here for all to see, and Split at the Root strikes a healthy balance between critical exposé, call to action and a tribute to that most important human quality: kindness.
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