Walking along the U.S.-Mexico border in the spring of 2022, Pablo Mazariegos shares an emotional moment with his son, Luca.
The young boy asks why people hide in bushes along the desert trails — is it because they don't want to go to jail? he wonders.
Softly, Pablo replies, "I had to [hide]."
Pablo Mazariegos, 41, is a Guatemalan immigrant, accomplished documentary filmmaker and youth intervention specialist living in Chattanooga. Mazariegos immigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala at 11 years old. His journey from his homeland to the U.S. was full of challenges, mirroring the experience of thousands of immigrants who undertake the perilous trek across the United States' southern border. His passion for filmmaking and storytelling is driven by a commitment to the communities he serves and to the stories and resiliency of immigrants coming to and living in America.
In his latest film endeavor, "Un Nuevo Pasado" ("Someday Soon"), Mazariegos explores the immigration journey of Guatemalan immigrants — specifically children — living in Chattanooga, while reconciling with his own migration journey.
To tell this story as organically as possible, Mazariegos dove deeply into his own story as a child immigrant. He traveled back to Guatemala, where he relived those days as a child, longing to see his parents again. Young Pablo lived with extended family for two years while awaiting his parents' return to Guatemala to come and take him to his new home in the U.S. Although there was no absence of love surrounding Pablo during those trying years, he says it never occurred to him how his family felt when he left on his new journey to America.
"That was quite a discovery for me," says Mazariegos. "I never thought about what it is like for family back home when we just up and leave."
In the film, Pablo mentions his aunt not allowing his cousins to wear any of his old shoes after he left because they were a reminder of him — a reminder that he was still with them.
But the hardest, most memorable part of his reflective journey was when he visited the Mexican border. Standing outside a rescue organization that aids immigrants by providing medical supplies, food, water and shelter, Mazariegos had an epiphany. He looked around and saw immigrants with little to no personal belongings. Just themselves and a dream to make it safely to America, he says.
"You see them with just a grocery bag, and that's all they have. It was really hard," says Mazariegos.
Grief, Loss and Hope
He emphasizes the child immigrant's perspective in his film. Through emotional interviews, the audience sees firsthand the sadness and longing of children — and their parents — who trekked the perilous journey from Guatemala to the U.S. Mazariegos says children are migrating here because they want to be with their parents, and on the flip side, parents are now wrestling with the grief of their decisions to leave their children for years at a time.
Keilyn Cinto, a graduate of Howard High School, was separated from her family at the age of two and migrated to the U.S. at the age of 11. Cinto says Mazariegos has been a role model for her, counseling both her and her mother through their immigration experience.
"'Un Nuevo Pasado' has converted my fears and sadness. I believe people shouldn't feel alone, especially during the immigration process," says Cinto. "I believe that my experience helped me become the person I am today."
Beyond an Immigrant's Story
Jazmine LeBlanc, one of the producers of "Un Nuevo Pasado," saw the broader impact this film has had on immigrants. LeBlanc says the film is a heartfelt way for Guatemalans in Chattanooga to be seen and heard.
"'Un Nuevo Pasado' is a story of belonging, wrestling with the sense of home and place. It is a story larger than Guatemalans or Latinos in Chattanooga. It is a story to impact people," says LeBlanc.
Mazariegos says that he hopes that his film contributes to a larger, more loving view of immigration. It's not a story filled with immigration law or political propaganda, but a story filled with the emotions of children and parents who overcame obstacles to be reunited together in America. It's no longer just an immigrant story; it's a "we" story, says Mazariegos.
"What I have found in life is that more than needing those papers [legal status documentation], what I need is to be loved and embraced. And that only happens through opening up and telling your story," he says.