C-SPAN awards Weslaco students for immigration documentary

WESLACO — A video documentary created by local students and inspired by immigrants’ oft-perilous journey into the United States has been awarded honorable mention recognition in C-SPAN’s national StudentCam competition.

As a result of their work, junior Priscilla Hall and seniors Jesus Barron and Daniel “Danny” Montez of Weslaco ISD’s Joe Calvillo CTE Complex will receive $250 for their documentary, aptly-titled “Immigration.”

In the video, the students interview Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, upon visiting the respite center at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen. They hoped that by touring the facility — where refuges are cared for via a partnership between Catholic Charities, Sacred Heart and the City of McAllen — some much-needed perspective would be gained rather than relying on political rhetoric spawned by President Donald Trump’s controversial immigration ban and border wall proposal.

“On the news, especially during inauguration time, there was so much talk about immigration,” Montez, 18, said when asked about what inspired the documentary.

Connected with Pimentel on Facebook, Montez said he approached her about the idea and was happy to hear that she would accommodate the fledgling filmmakers at Sacred Heart.

With their sound and camera gear in tow, the students hopped on a Valley Metro bus and headed for McAllen. Additional footage included shots of the border fence, international bridge and local sights and sounds interspersed with remarks from former President Barack Obama and a few impressions from those who’ve crossed the border.

“I had my doubts about it, because I realized it was a sensitive topic because of all the stuff you hear on the news about the immigration ban,” Barron, 17, said on Thursday. “I got a text message from Daniel (on Wednesday) saying we got honorable mention, then I said, ‘Stop lying.’ But I got the email (from C-SPAN confirming the recognition) and I jumped.”

The 321 students who won in various categories, spanning middle school and high school entries between the grades of 6-8 and 9-12, are being awarded $100,000 for the grand prize winning video, as well as the four first place, 16 second place, 32 third place and 97 honorable mention honors, according to a C-SPAN press release.

But the significance is larger than the monetary reward, considering their video was among the top 150 of nearly 3,000 submissions from more than 5,600 students in 46 states, including Washington D.C.

Held since 2006, the contest requires participants to produce short documentaries about issues “of national importance.” This, according to the release, is part of a partnership between C-SPAN and local cable affiliates nationwide.

According to C-SPAN Manager of Education Relations Craig McAndrew, the aim for this year’s competition was to produce a “message to Washington” by answering the following question: “What is the most urgent issue for the new president and Congress to address in 2017?”

“With the new president and Congress in office, we wanted to hear from students about public policy issues they would like addressed in 2017,” McAndrew stated in the release. “StudentCam offers young people the opportunity to connect with lawmakers and experts and provides them with a platform to voice their opinions creatively.”

C-SPAN identified that 16 percent of the videos submitted dealt with issues of equality, such as women’s rights, police brutality and racial and gender discrimination. The economy represented 13 percent of the submissions and the environment was the topic of 11 percent of the documentaries.

Although the Weslaco students agreed that immigration was the appropriate topic to tackle, Hall shared Barron’s uncertainty.

“In the beginning, I didn’t think we would win because of the time we had,” Hall, 17, said about the students having just five days to meet C-SPAN’s deadline. “Now that I found out we won something, I don’t even know what to say.”

Hall served as the camera and boom operator for the production while Montez’s role was that of reporter. Barron was the cameraman and editor, while also having to write the script and perform voiceover duties. Together, the three created a documentary that did more than earn a prestigious accolade.

The experience gained while filming the 7-minute video helped inspire the students to study media in the future. Barron, Hall and Montez have also been moved to donate to the respite center, which is largely assisted by volunteers and donations from the surrounding communities.

“At the end of the video, I say what we learned about their (immigrants’) journey here, and that’s how we shouldn’t take things for granted because not everybody has the privilege we do,” Barron said. “They have it rough, and I couldn’t help but think that I’m a spoiled brat.”

Montez was also impacted by what he witnessed.

“We heard really hard things about what they go through to get here,” Montez added. “When we were there, we also saw kids and babies.”

Barron said the three are now planning a trip back to the center so they can contribute what they can.

“They (refugees and immigrants) have a hard journey here, and I think they should be allowed to come,” Montez said.

For Gabriel Cruz, who teaches video production at the complex, his students’ efforts represented the school district and Rio Grande Valley in a positive light.

“When you see the website where they have all the other schools’ names, you can see Calvillo CTE there now,” Cruz said. “It felt good to know that our kids down here were recognized for their hard work, and they went above and beyond what was asked for in class. They took the initiative to take a bus to McAllen and get the interviews they needed. They did a great job and so I’m proud of them and of their work.”