This past spring semester, I attended a showing of the 2004 Mexican film Voces Inocentes. The film depicts the events of the Salvadoran civil war; however, unlike many war movies, it does not focus so much on the war itself as the tragic effects that the constant threat of violence had on the impoverished people of El Salvador — and specifically the Salvadoran children.
The film is primarily centered around an eleven-year-old boy named Chava, who is deeply afraid of his twelfth birthday. Like many of his peers, Chava fears that turning twelve will mean he will be forced to join the military voices against his will — as a child soldier.
Each week at school, all of the twelve-year-old boys are rounded up by a group of soldiers and escorted onto military vehicles and away from their friends and family without so much as the opportunity to say goodbye. On rare occasions, the boys do return to their village; however, they do not return as children, but as young men — hardened by war and violence and death.
On one such occasion, one of Chava’s friends returns to the village fully clad in military gear with an AK47 rifle strapped across his chest. Initially, Chava and the other village boys are thrilled to see their old friend, but as the day passes by the boys become more and more aware of their old friend and one-time classmate’s new position.
As the film progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that the young boys have few options before them — they can either join the rebel forces prior to their twelfth birthday (thereby avoiding the government draft) or they can bide their time until the military comes and abducts them from their schools and forces them into the military.
However, Chava’s mother hopes for a better life for her son. Knowing that the war will continue to rage on — permeating her village (and El Salvador as a whole) with violence — Chava’s mother is adamant that she wants her son to leave the country all together, even if that means that she is forced to part with her eldest child and, likewise, Chava is forced to part with everyone and everything that he has ever known.
I think that, in today’s political climate, we are quick to lump all immigrants into the same box — as trespassers in need of a firm reprimand and a ticket back home. Many believe that all immigrants are coming from Latin and South America willingly — as if they want to leave their homes and families behind to start over in a foreign country with no connections.
Of course, more times than not, this is not the case.
Nobody simply chooses to leave their home, their family, their life, out of boredom.
This film was a firm reminder to me of the conditions that many people around the world — and specifically in Latin and South America — are forced to endure. A reminder of the impossible choices that mothers are forced to make — whether to send their children off to war or to a foreign land. A reminder to look at all immigrants with a certain measure of empathy and compassion, as opposed to a blatant dismissal of their dignity and human rights.
After watching this film, I find myself even more distraught over President Trump’s immigration policies. However, I find myself equally as determined to fight for a better solution for not only American Immigrants, but also those that are unable to escape the violence and war that plagues their communities and threatens their families.