Chattanooga’s Latino population is predominantly Guatemalan, adding a distinct flavor to the city’s melting pot, said a local filmmaker whose documentary of his and others’ journeys is a centerpiece of the Hispanic Heritage Month celebration at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Pablo Mazariegos, 41, who immigrated to America at age 11 in 1992 to join his parents, will screen his documentary “Un Nuevo Pasado (Someday Soon)” on Tuesday, Oct. 3. The screening, which takes place beginning at 6 p.m. in the UTC Fine Arts Center’s Roland Hayes Concert Hall, will also include a session with Mazariegos fielding questions from the audience.
Mazariegos, who first lived in Raleigh, North Carolina, moved to Chattanooga in 2014 and now works as a youth intervention specialist for the City of Chattanooga.
Dr. Nikolasa “Niky” Tejero, professor of music and an associate dean of UTC’s College of Arts and Sciences, said the documentary is in keeping with UTC’s mission.
“Part of our mission and part of our values are embracing diversity and inclusion, so when you think about diversity—race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status—these are all things that enrich our campus community and better prepare our students to be more effective leaders in the world when they graduate from UTC,” Tejero said.
“Hispanic Heritage Month is an expression of Hispanic and Latinx cultures,” she said. “These cultures are linked by language, by history, by their colonial pasts, but also are very unique in some ways, and these distinctions add an array of flavors that make this ethnicity very rich. We celebrate because Hispanic culture matters. To see the perspective of the Latin culture can enrich the way we see the world and the way we see ourselves.”
In the documentary, Mazariegos reflects on the immigration journeys of Guatemalan children who traveled to Chattanooga and comes to grips with his own migration to rejoin his parents, who journeyed to America two years earlier.
Mazariegos said the film stays away from politics and focuses on the heartrending trauma experienced by those seeking better lives here.
“We migrate here because our families are here,” Mazariegos said. Plus, there are many American children in Chattanooga who were born to Guatemalan parents, and others born to parents from the 32 other Latin American countries.
“Miami is predominantly Cuban, and Texas Mexican,” he said. “For Chattanooga to have one of those majorities (Guatemalan) is unique.”
Mazariegos said it’s important that UTC’s Latin students think beyond the U.S. and learn how to contribute to their native countries and help to lift them from third-world status.
The documentary seeks to put words to the immigration experience, he said, to create new neuropathways to more confidently retell their stories through new lenses while undergoing less trauma than before.
By leaving their homes, immigrants often repress their lost senses of place and culture to focus on their general needs in staying alive, he said.
“We’re so focused on managing our future, our stays in the U.S., our strong needs, that we don’t have time to process our own stories. That goes for children and adults. We have unresolved trauma,” Mazariegos said.
President Lyndon Johnson started Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968, and President Ronald Reagan expanded it in 1988 to a monthlong celebration—Sept. 15 through Oct. 15—that coincides with the dates many Latin countries declared their independence. UTC hosts many events during the month, including Mazariegos’ free and public documentary.
Tejero, the UTC professor and associate dean, was born in Mexico’s Yucatán region before immigrating to Chattanooga as a 10-year-old. She recalls family vacations to her grandparents in Progreso, a nearby Mexican coastal town.
But they weren’t really vacations.
Her Mexican plastic surgeon father and nurse mother, an American citizen of Norwegian descent, would disappear for a weekend each month to perform cleft-palate and -lip reconstructions throughout Mexican villages. They met at a New York hospital before her father returned to Mexico to start his practice. Eight years later, they married in New York and moved to Mexico.
“Some media coverage has sensationalized immigrants in a pejorative way,” Tejero said. “They’re going to take our jobs, they’re lazy, good for nothing, won’t learn the language, that they are a nuisance to our society. But quite the contrary, these are people literally fleeing for their lives in the most desperate of cases. In their homelands, they have little to no successful lives where they can provide for their families. They come to the land of opportunity to seek a better life. These are hardworking people who take jobs that Americans don’t want.”
Mazariegos said he already has seen American parents moved by his cinematic story.
“It’s a family story,” he said. “Here in Chattanooga, we love families. Conservative people often take pride in their families. This is a heartfelt story. The biggest takeaway I hope people see or feel is that we have more in common than sometimes the media portrays. These people are wrestling with the grief of leaving a child in their native country, but they have them now.”