When four cousins head on a journey to Mexico to visit their ill grandfather and other family members, they learn more about their heritage and find a new appreciation for their family’s sacrifices. The cousins documented their experience in a new short film called “First Time Home.” We hear more from Esmirna Librado and Noemi Librado-Sanchez, two of the film’s co-directors. “First Time Home” is part of the Portland Film Festival and is available to watch online.
This transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
DAVE MILLER: In 2016, four young people living in the Pacific Northwest learned that their grandfather was very sick. He was in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, a member of the Trique Indigenous community. His U.S. born grandchildren had never been to Mexico before and had never met their extended families on the other side of the border. So they decided to go and to film their trip. The result is a short documentary called First Time Home. It’s premiering as part of this year’s Portland Film Festival and it’s streaming online right now.
For more on the film and this first ever family reunion, I’m joined by two of the co-directors. Esmirna Librado and Noemi Librado-Sanchez are sisters in Washington state. Esmirna is studying at Skagit Valley Community College. Noemi is a senior at Burlington Edison High School. You were 12 years old when you went on the trip. And when you started work on this movie. Why did you want to make a movie about this trip?
NOEMI LIBRADO-SANCHEZ: [We] wanted to give people an idea, let people see what it is like to not be able to grow up with extended family. Not being able to have that experience that a lot of kids had… to walk to the grandma’s house or be dropped off at their grandma’s house… that’s something that I always think about whenever I think about how much the border separates families. Because when I was over there and when I got to spend time with my grandparents and my great grandpa, it was just something that I really wish I can just take home with me. You know? Saying goodbye was the worst part.
MILLER: Esmirna, there’s actually a scene early on when the two of you are talking. You’re saying to your sister, “what do you think it’s going to be like to see family members? Are you gonna be nervous? Are you gonna want to hug them? These are members of our family, these are our grandparents or aunts or uncles, our family. But we also don’t really know them”. What was it like for you to think about seeing these family members in person for the first time?
ESMIRNA LIBRADO: Like my sister said, they’re family but they’re not here for us to go visit them. Like every time we need something or you know, “I want to go visit my grandpa, my grandma today”. We can’t, we can’t just go and visit. But at the same time they were kind of, I guess you can say, strangers. There was this one time where my grandpa was so excited because, in his own words, he [said], “oh my daughters are here!” He was so happy the first day we got there. But my mind kind of had to process that because I [thought], “Yes, that’s my grandpa, my first time seeing my grandpa, okay, well that’s your grandpa, that’s who you’ve been talking to on the phone”. I was kind of nervous, but excited at the same time.
MILLER: The first third of the film isn’t actually about your arrival in Oaxaca or your time with your family. It’s really much more about the challenges of working as farm workers in the U.S. What did you most want to show anglo audiences about what your families and hundreds of thousands of other families’ lives are like in the U.S.?
LIBRADO: It’s a lot of hard, hard work. A lot of leaving things behind that were so important to you. So that way, my parents left their parents to come here to help give us a better life or give us a better opportunity. And we barely got to see our parents. They were sleeping when we left and they were still sleeping when we got home. We barely got to even have a connection sometimes with our parents.
LIBRADO-SANCHEZ: We never really got to go out because they were always working and even though they came here for something better, it’s not like they automatically got better once they got here. It was a struggle. If we wanted something at the store we couldn’t always get it. It was a struggle working in the fields and doing labor work. Doing the work that people that come here have to do isn’t easy at all either. The conditions are really bad.
At the beginning of the film, you’ll see how my dad is working in the rain with mud everywhere and that can be very dangerous, you can slip, you can sprain an ankle, you never know. Anything can happen under those conditions. The conditions that people live once they get here and the conditions that they have to work under to be able to get to wherever they want to get aren’t easy at all.
MILLER: Esmirna there’s a scene where you’re asking a woman named Rosa what she thought about your plan to go to Mexico to see your grandfather and your family members. She essentially says, “I can’t go and so I’m glad that you can.” I’m wondering if that felt like a responsibility that if undocumented family or friends couldn’t go to Mexico that, in a sense, you owed it to them to go?
LIBRADO: I feel like it was kind of my responsibility to go in their place, to go and give them (my grandparents or my uncles or aunts in Mexico) to give them a little feel of their loved ones [who are] here.
MILLER: It was a very literal thing too. You actually recorded video letters, video messages from family members who couldn’t make the trip and you brought them with you to show to your grandparents or aunts or uncles. Can you give us a sense for the kinds of messages that you brought with you?
LIBRADO-SANCHEZ: One of them was my uncle who’s here saying as much as they wanted to go over there, but just can’t, [that] coming back, it just wouldn’t be easy, you know? And one of them [a message] from Mexico to the United States, which was from my grandpa to my dad, he was just thanking my dad for allowing us to travel to Mexico and be able to spend time with them. Just watching the video letters, was pretty hard to watch over and over again because it feels like it’s just something that hits you all over again, Like reality hits you all over again. The fact that, can you imagine not seeing your parents for that long? Not seeing your family members for that long? Well, it’s pretty hard. You know, it’s, it’s the life we got to live.
LIBRADO: Adding on to what she said about never knowing about what’s going to happen that happened to us with our great grandpa. We were sure we were going to go back to see him, but turns out that the video you saw was the last time, first and last time we ever got to see him in person and be able to be with him because um, I think it was two years after or a year after, he had passed. And his own sons couldn’t go over to say their last goodbyes. You never know what’s going to happen because of this border dividing the families.
MILLER: Esmirna Librado and her sister Noemi Librado-Sanchez are two of the directors of the documentary First Time Home. It’s about their trip with two of their cousins to go to Mexico to visit their family there for the first time. The film is having its premiere right now as part of this year’s Portland Film Festival. How different was the village of San Martin from what you’d heard from your family back in the U. S? What were your first impressions of it?
LIBRADO-SANCHEZ: Honestly my parents have told me, there’s no water over there, you’re going to have to walk to get it. The hot water, you’re going to have to heat up, there’s no shower, there’s no flushing toilet. They were right, there was none of that. There is no running water. It always depends but most houses don’t have running water or flushing toilets and the roads over there are so dangerous.
MILLER: As we were talking about, one of the biggest reasons that you and your sister and your cousins went to San Martin was to visit your ailing grandfather. But as we see in the film, you also spent a lot of time with younger family members and you connected with them. What was it like to meet young family who are still there, who are leading such different lives, 3000 miles away?
LIBRADO: It was an experience. Well at first it was kind of like meeting friends since we were almost the same age. We kind of just got a connection. and plus we knew we were family, so I think that kind of just connected us a little more. And just the excitement of finally meeting them? I feel like this will also bring us together.
MILLER: One of the wonderful things about the movie is the way you handle language because you’re trilingual, obviously we’re speaking English, you also speak Spanish and you also speak the Indigenous language of Trique. And in the movie you’re sort of going back and forth all the time with family members and especially when you were there in Spanish and Trique, not too much English. Here, it’s in the U.S., it seems like just all three of them mixed together in this amazing blend. What was it like to communicate with your family members there?
LIBRADO-SANCHEZ: Well for me honestly that’s another hard thing because I was born and raised here. In school we speak English and my parents never really spoke Trique to me. They mainly spoke Spanish. But my sister understands it a little more than I do but when I was over there I feel like just those couple of... what was it a week or two that I was there, I learned a lot because my grandparents constantly spoke it to me. That’s all I heard over there. So I feel like I was able to learn some more. But over here it’s harder to learn because it’s mainly English and Spanish. That’s all I hear.
LIBRADO: Well my parents did speak to us in Trique. It was just that me and my sister always just communicated in English. So I feel like we wouldn’t really take the time to listen to what my parents were saying because, [for example] if she didn’t understand something our parents said I would say this but in English. And then they were like you know what and then they say in Spanish because they also learn Spanish. It’s not that they knew Spanish coming here. Even now they say that they still don’t know how to speak Spanish well but they try their best.
MILLER: What was that like to come back to the U. S. after spending more than a week in Mexico?
LIBRADO-SANCHEZ: Well like I said the hard part is leaving. You feel like you’re leaving a lot behind you know. The time that you spend with your family, you are family. Even though it was the first time that we had met them, we still connected, I feel like, a lot and bonded. And in so many ways it’s just something that you wish you can just bring with you and not have to say goodbye.
MILLER: What do you most want people to take away from this film?
LIBRADO: I think just to kind of step in our shoes. I think we did an [good] job explaining how hard it was to be a farm worker that moves back and forth because that’s what we did for the first part of our lives. They [parents] would go back and forth from California to Washington and education and work and family is hard sometimes on us. And you know them leaving their family. Like my sister said, you know, she was just there [in Mexico] for a week and she came back home and she thought she was leaving her family there with her family in Mexico. Now imagine our parents who have not seen their family or parents for 20 plus years. I mean sorry (weeping) but you know it was just a week and us and then it’s been years that they’ve not seen their family members.
MILLER: Esmirna Librado and Noemi Librado-Sanchez, congratulations on this movie. Esmirna Librado and Noemi Librado-Sanchez are two of the directors of the documentary, First Time Home. It is premiering right now as part of this year’s Portland Film Festival.
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