This Year Should Be Latinos’ Freedom Summer: Filmmaker Gloria Moran Explains

Gloria Moran is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker whose short films include The Unique Ladies and Homes for the Homies. Here she reflects on her experience of shooting The Voter, a portrait of a participant in 1964’s Freedom Summer, and the importance of voting.

Today, I will pack up the stroller and hike over a hill to get to the Iglesia Evangelica Latina in Los Angeles so I can vote, with my 8-month old in tow. I’m not taking her just because I need to be a responsible caretaker; I want her to experience her first time in a voting booth. Growing up with a mom who was a professor in Latina/o Studies, voting and the right to vote were always emphasized.

Sometimes, I would do my homework in my mom’s office while she met with students or was giving a lecture. Even though she has since changed to many different offices, there is always the same fuschia bumper sticker that reads, in vibrant green lettering, “Su Voto Es Su Voz” (Your Vote is Your Voice). As the offspring of two self-identified radical Chicanos, I grew up attending moratoriums, not eating grapes for the majority of my childhood, and raising my fist from my stroller.

My connection to voting, civil rights, and equality came full circle earlier this year when I was given the opportunity to direct two short films for PBS’ American Experience. The shorts were to be personal portraits of people involved in the 1964 Freedom Summer. They were meant to promote Stanley Nelson’s documentary Freedom Summer on the mass registration drives held in Mississippi to aid black voters (and was broadcast this past summer.)

“As the offspring of two self-identified radical Chicanos, I grew up attending moratoriums and raising my fist from my stroller.”

When the offer came, I was pregnant and nearly full term. I offered to go to Mississippi to shoot after my daughter was born. Thankfully, the producers at PBS accepted the timeline. After a difficult birth and adjusting to the learning curve of new parenting, I began to doubt if I could really leave my daughter for the 10 days that were needed complete the project. While I hemmed and hawed, my mom convinced me by saying, “I think Itzel would want to know her mom produced a video on Freedom Summer one day.”

Even after narrowly missing a tornado, I managed to have an excellent shoot in Hattiesburg Mississippi, where Freedom Summer began in January of 1964. Known as Freedom Day, protesters from across the U.S. marched in front of a courthouse that forced black voters to take arbitrary tests or required them to fill out inordinately long questionnaires in order to register. In Stanley Nelson’s film he interviews Anthony Harris, who despite being a kid at the time, participated in the marches and the Freedom School education project. His participation was very much encouraged by his mother, Daisy, who I filmed for one of the shorts, The Voter.

My tiny crew and I filmed Daisy for two days. We went to places she had worked or had vivid memories of. One location was the Hattiesburg Courthouse; there she painted the scene, describing the protesters’ signs and where they marched.

Yesterday, American Experience posted the short on Facebook and it received more than 25,00 views. It makes me incredibly happy that a new audience is learning the power of “Su Voto Es Su Voz” through the eyes of a radical voting rights worker from Mississippi.

While writing this piece I found out that Ms. Daisy Harris Wade passed away a few days ago, on October 29.