The process of developing the character of Marisol was unlike any other role I had prepared for. From the beginning to the end it was a completely natural and a much more patient approach than what I was use to. I met with Eugene Martin several times discussing the character; who she was, what she wanted, etc. But all of these discoveries were entwined with my own personal experiences growing up Mexican American. I always approach a character searching for similarities that I find in myself. I think that if I can find honest connections with the character’s life events than I can give an honest portrayal. However, Marisol began as a blank slate. In the beginning, I felt a lot of pressure for Marisol to be some sort of representation for all undocumented youth experiencing this expulsion from the world they know and want by the people they looked to for safety and hope.
Probably aware of my uncertainty, Eugene would meet with me and we’d discuss the topics within the film. I left my preconceived expectations of Marisol behind and simply tried to connect with the events in the film; “What would I, Amanda, feel if I had found out that I was undocumented?” My first reaction was “I don’t even speak fluent spanish. Yikes.” This made me realize that the only way I was going to find out who Marisol was was to do a close examination of my own appropriations towards the two cultures that I’m already a giant melting pot of; Mexican American.
With every piece of history that we created for Marisol, there is a thin thread of my own stitched into the details. Like Marisol, my family originally came to America for better opportunities but were faced with another kind of injustice when assimilating to their new home. Through the generations my younger family members became what is referred to as “white-washed”; we’re more embracing and familiar of white-American/European influenced culture. Growing up in predominately all-white schools, watching English-speaking television shows and being immersed in this homogeneous environment overpowered any exposure I had to my Mexican roots. I felt that Marisol would be experiencing the same. Like me, Marisol always has a plan to move on to the next big thing. Feeling such a part of this American dream, Marisol embraces her future in academia. This is a common theme through a lot of Hispanic households in the lower-middle class south; work hard in school and you will succeed in life. Being raised by educators, I understood Marisol’s devotion to the future of her education and felt, as I have always felt, that a college degree would be the ticket to greater life opportunities.
What Marisol wants is clear in the beginning but what is unclear to her and to so many young Mexican Americans is the silent sacrifice taking place by our brothers and sisters fighting for everything we already have and often take for granted. I can’t ever understand what that struggle does to one’s humanity but I can choose to accompany those who are forced to endure it. Marisol and I can choose to be selfless and present for undocumented people who are a part of the culture that continues to embrace us even though we have embraced another. The theme of accompaniment, oracompañamiento, is common throughout the film and is the action which moves Marisol forward after her discovery that she is undocumented.
The undocumented friends and students I’ve spoken to have all shared with me past experiences of prejudice and ignorance. The anger they and Marisol feel is a painful confusion of desperation for a better life, guilt for risking so much without any sure promise of relief, and resentment towards their home and history for leading up to such extreme events. And yet, despite these unfortunate reminders, they continue to live their lives striving for citizenship, work, education, opportunity, unhindered and motivated by the prospect of giving help to others going through the same situations.