Film based on families who came to El Paso fleeing drug cartels wins international award

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'Guardian of Memory' is testament to resiliency of those who lost loved ones and property but refuse to give up, El Paso lawyer says

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A film about the resilience of families who fled to the United States during the Mexican drug cartel wars of a decade ago has won the equivalent of the Oscar award in Mexico.

“Guardian of Memory” on Sept. 27 received the 2020 “Ariel” for Best Documentary from the Mexican Academy of Film Arts and Sciences (AMACC). Writer/director Marcela Arteaga made the film based on asylum seekers from El Porvenir, a Mexican town just south of Fort Hancock, Texas, and other nearby communities.

Many of these migrants were middle-class families and merchants who suffered the murder of younger family members or became targets of extortion, threats and persecution when drug traffickers – mostly members of the Sinaloa cartel — moved into their town.

“While all Mexican asylum seekers suffer violence that expel them from Mexico, (the director) was able to delve into how they survived the emotional trauma and their resilience to keep their families together and continue to fight” for asylum, said El Paso attorney Carlos Spector.

El Paso attorney Carlos Spector talks about the award-winning documentary based on some of his clients who fled drug violence in Mexico. (photo by Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

Many of the subjects in the documentary are Spector’s clients, while others are part of an organization called Mexicans in Exile, which he helped organize. The El Paso lawyer also has a speaking part in the movie.

The film throws powerful facts and imagery at the viewer. A line of clothes set on fire represents the “disappeared ones,” as do hundreds of empty cups, dolls and teddy bears set in the middle of the desert. Then, there’s the staggering statistic that a once vibrant town of 17,000 people was reduced to 1,000 inhabitants in less than a decade.

“Corruption in Mexico used to take place in police agencies and within the government. Now, it’s been subcontracted to the cartels,” Spector says in the film. “There is no more organized crime […] This is authorized crime. The government and the business community have allowed, through impunity, for criminals to control the town.”

Other voices reflect on the absurdity of killings and kidnappings taking place after the Mexican government deployed thousands of soldiers to keep the peace in the region.

“It makes no sense that the violent ones feel the urge to start killing people while 3,000 soldiers are guarding the valley,” one of the voices says.

“They were looking for all of us – the police and organized crime together,” says another voice.

Spector said he feels happy that the struggle of the people portrayed in the film is getting international attention. “It brings a lot of satisfaction to me that they have been recognized,” he said. “The title has to do with them wanting to leave a footprint of their struggle. The film is a testament to their families and to their community that this was, is and will continue to be a reality along the border.”

A scene from the documentary “Guardian of Memory,” written and directed by Marcela Arteaga and produced by Gefilte Films. It’s based on the stories of asylum seekers who came to El Paso fleeing Mexican drug cartels. (courtesy Carlos Spector)

At least 12 of those families – who came to the United States from 2009 to 2016 – have been approved for asylum. Their stories were so powerful that they won their cases in an El Paso Sector notorious for rejecting more than 90% of such claims, Spector said.

Now, these new U.S. residents are using their organization to welcome and guide others displaced by cartel activity in their communities, he said.

The El Paso lawyer said he was particularly motivated to take the families’ cases because his mother, a native of Mexico, is from Guadalupe, one of the towns near El Porvenir also beset by drug violence. “The fact that I was able to help my mother’s hometown shows that you don’t have to destroy the system or overthrown the government to bring about justice. The lesson of ‘Guardian of Memory’ is that If you can save your hometown, you’ve done enough,” he said.

For more information on the film, visit www.guardianofmemory.com

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