Lamento con Alas (“Lament with Wings”) is a short documentary about good Samaritans Lavoyger Durham and Lori Baker who attempt to make a difference during the immigration surge in the summer of 2014. Durham breaks stereotypes as a Texan rancher who sets up water stations that keep immigrants alive even as they illegally cross his land. And Baker, an associate professor of anthropology at Baylor University, exhumes deceased immigrants from unmarked graves and works to return the dead to their families in Latin America. She founded the Reuniting Families Project to establish a system for DNA analysis and identification of these deceased migrants. Durham and Baker both work to bring dignity to migrants who cross our border in dangerous conditions.
Now, two years later, the crisis at the border continues. This summer, immigration has surged again, with nearly 400,000 immigrants apprehended through August 2016. These numbers include families and unaccompanied children, most of whom are coming from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and are trafficked through Mexico on their way to the US border.1 And as the rhetoric of the political season has demonstrated, Americans are deeply divided over how to handle Latin American and Middle Eastern immigrants—some cry that we should build a wall whereas others hope for clearer paths to citizenship.
The divide over this issue reveals that many people reject the reality that the US-Mexico border is a site of a refugee crisis. Through our film, we hope to acquaint such people with the deeper story of the dangers of immigration and bring to light the deeply human motives of those who flee their homes: fear of violence or financial necessity. This is a crisis our continent must face together. These are risks taken out of desperation.
I believe that empathy—not exclusion—is needed to solve these problems. Our film therefore calls viewers to join us in a song of lament for the dead along the border. Its original score was crafted by Carlos Colón, an El Salvadoran composer who fled to Guatemala and then the United States as a refugee from El Salvador’s civil war. The cello piece “With My Lost Saints” was composed for this film and performed by Chris Martin at Baylor University’s Armstrong Browning Library, whereas the choral pieces in the film are from Colón’s “Requiem,” which was dedicated to the victims of the massacre of El Mozote and received support from the Salvadoran government as a way to remember victims of their bloody civil war.
Lamento con Alas exposes viewers to the dangers of our borders and the selfless efforts of helpers like Durham and Baker, helpers whose lives and minds were changed by their encounters with this ongoing tragedy. If we understand and mourn the extremes that immigrants face at our border, perhaps we can challenge the protectionist identity of Americans who seek to build walls or cut off paths to citizenship.
Lamento con Alas: Documenting Unidentified Deaths along the Texas-Mexico Border was produced by Carlos Colón, Pilar Timpane, and private donors; it was directed and edited by Pilar Timpane with the assistance of consulting writer Anne Snyder. It features an original score by Carlos Colón. To learn more about Lori Baker’s work with forensic identification, please visit http://www.reunitingfamilies.org/.
- For information on the surge, see Eleanor Dearman and Travis Putnam Hill, “Illegal Central American Immigration Surges Again at US Border,” Texas Tribune, September 15, 2016, https://www.texastribune.org/2016/09/15/central-american-illegal-immigration-us-border-loo/. For a description of the immigrants themselves, see “To Escape Gangs and Poverty, Central American Children Making Risky Journey to US,” UN News Center, August 23, 2016, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=54734#.WBnuCneZOCQ.