As the less rational citizens of this country hoot and holler about closing the door to Syrian refugees, it’s easy to forget that many of our Latin American brothers and sisters coming up from the south are also fleeing violence and political instability. In fact, in 2014 alone 14,000 Mexican nationals sought political asylum in the United States, many of whom were journalists fleeing one of the highest rates of violence against their profession in the world.
Indeed, while in Mexico’s big cities journalists may have to endure harassment and threats to their safety, it’s the brave truth-tellers in small towns and provincial capitals that are often the targets of feuding narcos and the public officials on their payroll. A new documentary, El Paso, puts this difficult reality into relief as it follows two Mexican journalists exiled to the city of El Paso, Texas, and the human rights lawyer who advocates for their safety.
Directed by Everardo González — who after a handful of critically lauded documentaries has earned a reputation as one of Mexico’s preeminent documentary journalists — El Paso focuses on the story of Alejandro Hernández Pacheco, a Televisa cameraman from Torreón who was kidnapped after filming a report in a local prison, and Ricardo Chávez Aldana, a Juárez radio personality who began to use his program to speak openly about the individuals involved in a bloody turf war.
While Hernández struggles to adapt to life on the other side of the Río Bravo with a large family and autistic son, Chávez gets by working at a local fast food restaurant, tormented by the possibility that his own cousins were murdered on his account. In a sometimes raw style, contrasting interviews with observational footage, Gónzalez reminds us just why the United States has always been a haven for individuals fleeing persecution.