Ebert Fellow, Carlos Aguilar, recently penned a wonderful article for Variety in which he discussed how President Obama's DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program and his immigrant experience shaped his perspective as a film critic. When the Trump Administration rescinded DACA, thus removing temporary protections offered to roughly a million undocumented youth, Aguilar decided to publicly reveal that he was one of the program's recipients who would be directly impacted by its termination. In his latest essay, Aguilar details his lingering fear of "losing DACA and being forced back into shadows," while being "repeatedly reminded" of his condition as an undocumented person via the things in which he cannot partake.
"Part of a professional film critic’s job entails attending international festivals, something that’s virtually out of the question for me without real risks," wrote Aguilar. "In the grand scheme of injustices, not being able to travel abroad is minuscule, but for the field I’m now a part of, it’s truly limiting. I’ve yet to attend such renowned festivals as Toronto or Cannes, and there’s no certainty that I’d be able to in the new future. Fortunately, thanks to multiple initiatives like those established by Rotten Tomatoes and Chaz Ebert [thank you Carlos for the mention, you were a hardworking delightful addition to the program] that aim to include diverse critics at major events through financial assistance, I’ve experienced the Sundance Film Festival and a variety of regional festivals across the country that have served as platforms to network, land assignments and grow within this segment of the film world."
Aguilar's impassioned endorsement of DACA, which the Supreme Court rescued last month from Trump's efforts to end it, are echoed in "To Carry On: An Anthem of the American Immigrant Experience," a new song launched today to accompany America's July 4th festivities. Produced by New York-based iconic actor and teacher Mark Ethan Toporek, the song is performed by 12 young immigrants--some of them DACA recipients--as well as first-generation Americans. The video is dedicated to the more than 27,000 "Dreamers" who have been frontline healthcare workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The nine singers and three musicians live in California, Texas, Georgia, and New York, and hail from countries including Mexico, China, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Haiti.
Mark Toporek, the son of Holocaust survivors, contacted organizations that connect and protect DACA recipients, seeking young immigrant singers. Mr. Toporek selected a dozen artists. Working from a musical arrangement by Mario Gullo, the performers recorded their parts in their homes, and Adam Grannick edited them into the video. He was assisted by two primary groups:
1. Nosotros is the oldest Latinx arts advocacy organization in the U.S., founded in 1970 by Hollywood legend Ricardo Montalbán. It gives rising talent the platform and tools necessary to succeed in the entertainment industry while enhancing the image of the Latinx community in media.
2. Define American humanizes the conversation on immigration, and fights anti-immigrant hate and racism through storytelling. Using entertainment media consulting, original content, news media advocacy, activism, and the arts, Define American works to transcend politics, and shift the conversation about immigrants, identity, and citizenship in a changing America.
According to Toporek, "Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, I began to assemble a multicultural group debut of To Carry On for a July 4th celebration. But in light of the pandemic, I switched to the idea of an online video, partly to heighten awareness of the plight of 'Dreamers' in our current immigration limbo. I see To Carry On as both a prayer and a protest song--a synthesis of Born In The USA and We Are The World: a person who aspires to become an American is already on the road to being 'Reborn in the USA'. This song's healing vision unites immigration with patriotism, a sustaining message to be heard above the daily news cycle. The aim of the video is to change the narrative disseminated by the current administration--not from the defensive to the offensive, but to the inclusive. It is a song for all Americans."
As I listened to and watched the performances of the artists, I could envision Mark composing a musical of the various experiences of the immigrants, similar to a "Hamilton" play. But I imagine that since Lin-Manuel Miranda's brilliant masterpiece, many have had similar visions. And I know it is much more difficult than it seems. But I also know Mark personally, so I have no doubt he would be up to the task.