Those of us who care about facts know that immigration to the United States from Mexico has actually been at net-zero since at least 2014, with many suggesting that there is actually a negative flow of Mexican immigrants out of this country relative to those arriving. This, of course, is an inconvenient demographic reality for certain political figures, but its implications go well beyond our nation’s petty and ill-informed immigration debate. That’s because for every immigrant family that packs up and moves operations back to Mexico, there are often several American-born or raised children making the transition to an unknown country.
These transborder children (tranfronterizos) often speak English as well as if not better than Spanish, and in many cases they spent many years in the U.S. educational system before moving back to Mexico. Some of them don’t even know Spanish. So just imagine how awkward things get when they have to sit through English class at their new Mexican school, or learn about U.S. history in a Spanish textbook, or even just share experiences with classmates who lack any understanding of their complex cultural context.
Bilingual educator Tatyana Kleyn can sympathize with this plight. As a young girl, she made the trek with her family from Latvia to the United States, where they settled as political refugees from the former Soviet Union. Her experience growing up as a first generation U.S. immigrant with parents who couldn’t speak English moved her to dedicate her life to educating students operating within these cultural grey areas.
While spending six months in Oaxaca between 2014 and 2015 on a Fulbright scholarship, she saw first hand how transfronterizo children struggle to adapt and learn in a new environment. As a result, she and her team put together a packet of materials including a guide for Mexican teachers, a five-part teaching curriculum, and a 30-minute documentary aptly entitled Una Vida, Dos Países (One Life, Two Countries): Children and Youth (Back) in Mexico.
Shot with the help of filmmaker Ben Donnellon, Una Vida, Dos Países focuses on the experience of transfronterizo kids in two communities: Ciénaga de Zimatlán and Tlacolula de Matamoros in Oaxaca. Taking several subjects, some of whom grew up in New York, others in Los Angeles, Kleyn and Donnellon give them the opportunity to speak and reflect on questions of identity, adaptation, and the difficulty of being separated from loved ones who stayed on the other side.
The result is a pretty straightforward documentary comprised primarily of interviews and shots of of daily life in Zimatlán. More important than its cinematic value, however, is the urgent education and cultural issue it explores, going a step further by offering concrete support materials for these youth and other thousands like them throughout Mexico.