The UCSB MultiCultural Center hosted a screening of the documentary short films “#PardonMaria” and “Fighting For Family” as a part of its “Cup of Culture” series on May 19.
A discussion panel with Lan Nguyen and Brandon Soun, the filmmakers of both documentaries, and the films’ subjects — Maria Kanaka Luna from “#PardonMaria,” and Rex Ny and Chuh A from “Fighting For Family” — followed the screening. Nguyen directed both films and Soun directed “#PardonMaria” and served as assistant editor on “Fighting For Family.”
“#PardonMaria” is a six-minute film centered on Luna, a Filipina and Native Hawaiian activist, as she rebuilds her life and works to be pardoned from deportation after serving 23 years in prison. While the charges weren’t explicitly discussed in the film, Luna described falling into a bad crowd during her teenage years after a difficult childhood.
The other featured film, “Fighting For Family,” details the life of Ny and A, a couple originally from the Vietnamese Montagnard tribe. A is currently living in Vietnam fighting a deportation case to reunite with his wife and children in the United States.
“I am a filmmaker, but I am also a community organizer,” Nguyen said at the panel. “I wanted to showcase their stories. My goal in creating these films was having audience members question the role of incarceration in our society.”
Soun said he immediately agreed to join the projects when Nguyen asked.
“I think films like these are important for people to watch because when you think of deportation, you don’t really think of it as affecting the AAPI community,” Soun said in an interview with the Nexus. “Generally, people view deportation as affecting the Latinx community and these stories aren’t really told in the mainstream media.”
Following the screening, then-senior global studies and Asian American studies double major Rose Hoang led a panel discussion with the filmmakers and participants. She began by asking the panelists why they decided to take part in the creation of these films.
“It took some courage for me to actually agree to making this, but it was a great thing that I met Lan,” Rex said in response. “I decided to because under my circumstances, this was a way for me to share my story with others who are facing or have a partner facing deportation.”
Hoang then prompted the panel to discuss the connection between state violence, incarceration systems and anti-Asian violence amidst the pandemic.
“If all of us come together and respect each other’s cultures and see our similarities and embrace our differences, we can unite together,” Luna said in response. “Then we can stop this violence against us because I believe it starts within our own community, our own homes and our own families.”
The conversation then shifted to the proposition of bringing more law enforcement into Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities as a response to recent spikes in violence, which Soun said he disagreed with.
“I’d say that is not the way to go about it because in the end, that not only affects our communities but our brothers and sisters, the Black and brown communities,” Soun said. “What we really need right now is solidarity between all of us.”
Hoang wrapped up the post-film discussion by asking the panelists how they remain positive while facing these challenges.
“My hope is just waiting for this virus to be over so that my wife can come over here and visit me with my kids,” A said.
Nguyen stressed that while the films are centered on the consequences of deportation, the importance of the projects ultimately revolve around embracing AAPI cultures.
“To only think of our people as the sum of their hardships is dehumanizing, so I get a lot of joy from celebrating our people,” Nguyen said. “We’re beautiful and funny. We make delicious food and throw great parties. Just thinking about all of these things that we are that make us up as humans.”