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Winter 2017

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Documenting Change, Challenging Assumptions

Roxanne Frias '78 offers a glimpse of the not-so-distant future in her film LATINO

By Marge Perko

Roxanne Frias '78 Roxanne Frias '78

Every 30 seconds, a Latino living in the United States turns 18. In the documentary LATINO: The Changing Face of America, award-winning filmmaker Roxanne Frias `78 gives us a glimpse of a demographic revolution happening across America while sharing the stories of young people who will soon take their place as the next generation of leaders and decision makers.

For over two decades, Frias has worked as a producer, director and on-camera reporter for French television organizations like Point du Jour, neria, Phare Ouest, France5 and Arte, and auteur of though-provoking films like Back to Chicago (2012) and the series Tous les habits du monde (2008).

In LATINO, Frias, who has lived in Paris throughout her career in French television, turned her lens to her roots as a young Latina growing up in Los Angeles. “Sometimes, when you are lifted out of your own little world, you can see yourself and where you came from with clarity,” she said to an audience full of college students at the UC Santa Barbara debut of her film at Pollock Theater on October 5, 2016.

In the beginning, she had wanted to focus on the story of her father and his life in El Paso. But the people and places she encountered over the three years she worked on the film changed the course of her narrative. “You can research and research – and when you actually go out on the ground and start talking to people, you realize how little you know,” she said. “This film’s outcome was so positive – and I didn’t think it would be positive. It gave me a lot of hope.”

In the making of LATINO, Frias interviewed over 70 high school students in California, school administrators, dozens of families living in a small Iowa town, demographic experts and Latino thought leaders like Univision anchor Jorge Ramos.

In Los Angeles, her lens focused on two young people who brought home the idea of the new America forming from the growing Latino population. At Montebello School District where 97 percent of students are Latino, many share personal stories like senior Hector Reyes, a high-achieving student and son of hardworking undocumented parents. Frias also revealed the many layers of the immigration debate in her interviews with Sirian Duarte, a high school senior whose migration story from Honduras drew gasps from the audience.

Then, during the 2015 election primaries, Frias visited Ottumwa, Iowa. “Who would have thought, in the middle of Iowa, that there were these Latinos living and transforming this town,” she said. “I was amazed by this town working toward diversity, on all sides.” There, she interviewed a young family who ran the local Latino grocery, the mayor, and had a lively discussion at the Latino radio station about the then up-and-coming Republican nominee Donald Trump.

After presenting carefully-researched statistics and eye-opening conversations about race, culture, politics, migration, Frias ended her film with scenes from high school football games and Ottumwa’s 4th of July festivities. “They are American,” she said. “At the same time, they are able to be proud of their Latino identity. That is the feeling I have coming out of this film – these kids want to be educated, to be accepted as who they are. They can call themselves anything they want.”

Read more about Roxanne Frias `78 in her Alumni Spotlight.