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Panel discusses film on migration

Ben Horvath | Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Panelists drew from fiction to tackle the real-world challenges faced by migrants yesterday when the Center for Social Concerns and Department of Romance Languages and Literatures co-hosted a viewing and discussion of the film “Al Otro Lado.”

“Al Otro Lado,” Spanish for “To the Other Side,” relates the fictional migration experiences of three men from the perspective of each man’s wife and children. While the stories each take place in different parts of the world – Morocco, Spain and Cuba – the film focuses on the commonalities of the families’ experiences.

Prior to the viewing, Spanish professor Ben Heller gave a brief history of migration patterns from Cuba and Mexico to the United States and discussed the significance of geographical borders and distances.

“Geographical factors are not just things on maps, but are symbolic spaces of trial, transition and growth for migrants,” he said.

French professor Catherine Perry’s commentary focused on the recent immigration patterns within Europe, as one of the film’s narratives featured migration to Spain.

The feature-length film touched on some of the other challenges immigrants face, such as poverty and prejudice.

Panelist and theology professor Fr. Dan Groody – who has personally worked with migrants in Mexico, Syria and Morocco – discussed the theological framework of migration following the film.

“Immigration is a social, political and economic reality, but it is also a spiritual and theological journey as well,” Groody said.

Groody compared migrants’ journeys from their homeland to humanity’s ultimate journey away from and eventual return to God, applying a theological symbolism on a political issue.

“The theology of migration allows us to gain a new imagination of who we are before God,” he said.

Sean O’Brien, assistant director at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, provided a legal perspective on migration in his remarks following the film’s conclusion. He attributed much of today’s migration to violations of human rights.

“We recognize human rights as inalienable and universal regardless of legal status,” O’Brien said, citing the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

O’Brien said the awareness of these rights allow migrants to take advantage of them and improve their situation.

“These rights are a tool for empowerment for immigrants as well as a set of remedies,” O’Brien said.