Who is Dayani Cristal?: Searching for the Identity of a Migrant
Migrant travelers found near the U.S-Mexico border are seen as bodies, not as humans. There are only two types of people: John Does’ and Jane Does.’ This is what led Director Marc Silver and Actor/Filmmaker Gael García Bernal to travel the journey of one unfortunate migrant found dead and alone in the Arizona Desert, just a 20 minute car ride from Tucson.
‘Who is Dayani Cristal?,’ encompasses the struggles that many migrants devoted to making it to the “promise land” face. Through his family’s own words and the movements of Bernal, a narrative is formed in finding the identity behind the one feature that separates him from the rest- a tattoo marked on his chest that reads “Dayani Cristal.”
Bernal traveled from Honduras through Mexico to reach the United States. A boat ride across the Honduras-Mexico border and a train ride on “La Bestia,” known as “The Beast,” brought him comradery as he and other migrant travelers bonded over their journey.
“They worry about me cause now we tame ‘The Beast’ together,” says Bernal. Friendships are formed, but luxury aboard the freight train is absent. Riders aboard the train’s roof fear falling asleep due to the possibility of being crushed by the large machine or being kidnapped by organized gangs. These gangs control the north and see migrants as an opportunity for money, once again demoting migrants to mere objects. Even with fear for their lives, a large amount of people still ride “The Beast” to make it to their final destination.
NPR reports that up to half-a-million migrants ride “The Beast” each year, with children making up a part of this. In the 2013-2014 fiscal year 50,000 Central American minors were intercepted at the U.S-Mexico border, a fivefold increase in just two years. This led President Obama to declare an “urgent humanitarian situation,” in June 2014. Without a definitive number of migrant kidnappings from the Mexican government, we can only see that deaths start well before the American border. How bad must their situations in their homelands be for them to risk their lives during their travels?
The Immigrant Visa Process for the United States is one that takes time, money, and connections. How is a person who is unable to live with financial stability in their own country meant to prove financially stable in the U.S.? And how is this person meant to get sponsorship by a U.S. citizen if the only people they know in America are illegal? The legal system does not assist many migrants from Central America and many current U.S. citizens agree that this is the correct way to handle the issue of immigration.
The Pew Research Center’s October 2011 survey found that 46% of American citizens favored building a fence that spread across the entire U.S-Mexico border, while 47% disagreed. But a more recent survey done in May 2015 found that 72% of Americans feel that immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country pending they meet certain requirements. There is acceptance for those who are already in the country, but those who still want to come to the states are unwelcomed by half of the American population.
“I think as an American, I would like all Americans to acknowledge that they benefit from a blue-collared labor force that has brown skin,” said Dr. Bruce Anderson, a forensic anthropologist in the film. The National Journal reports that immigrant workers are more likely than U.S. born workers to have jobs in six of the 13 large industries examined. The agriculture, administrative services, finance and real-estate, and manufacturing workforces in the U.S. might take a blow without these workers. So why not support Central American migrants in their journey to freedom, if only to save U.S.’s own workforce?
Throughout the ride to the Mexican border, travelers shared stories about their home-lives and their past attempts at finding freedom. But the final stage of the journey, where migrants reach the U.S, is where they also share their physical strength. In ‘Who is Dayani Cristal?,’ the man behind the tattoo is partially carried through the Arizona Desert by his fellow migrants. The brotherhood created in the other parts of the journey led men to feel that no one should be left behind. But eventually there, in the desert, some must be left behind to ensure others do not get caught by border control.
307 deaths were recorded in the 2014 fiscal year that ended in September, according to the Associated Press. What’s even more unnerving is that this was a record low number for a 15-year time frame. How many deaths will it take for the U.S. to change its policies on immigration? We, as citizens of the free world, should take strides towards redefining immigrants lives to be more valued in life than in death.
WAYS YOU CAN REACT TO FILM
- WATCH & REACT to “The Invisibles” a series of short films by Marc Silver & Gael García Bernal for Amnesty International, highlighting the shelter networks and the human rights abuses which are part of all migrants’ journeys.
- JOIN THE FIGHT for immigration reform. See the National Council for La Raza to learn about current US immigration reform, advocate for change with “tools for reform” by writing letters to your congressman and/or senators, and share your immigration story.
- DONATE to the Colibri Center for Human Rights to help families achieve the basic human need of finding out what happened to a missing loved one.
- BUILD AWARENESS through social media by taking a photo of the contents in your pocket or purse and post it with the hashtag #TheThingsWeCarry.
- USE RESOURCES on the Who is Dayani Cristal? website, such as Learn More and Border Stories to support the movement.
- TELL YOUR FRIENDS to watch the movie.
- TAKE ACTION to help migrants along their journey and help Find a Missing Migrant by reporting them to the Colibrí Center.
- READ AND DISTRIBUTE the free ebook ‘An Examination of Modern Day Migration’ available on iTunes and via PDF download.