‘El Dia de las Carpas,’ Watching ICE Raids Through the Eyes of a Child

Dia de las Carpas BeLatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of “El Dia de Las Carpas”

Although the number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States is not exact, data shows it has progressively decreased due to the current administration’s immigration policy changes. In 2016, the Pew Research Center reported between 10.7 and 12.2 million unauthorized immigrants currently living in the country. But it has been in recent years that we’ve seen controversy highlighted around this social issue. 

Deportations and separations of families are not only heartbreaking but mentally taxing, and yet, it’s easy to forget the struggles of this particular population until we put a face to it. Now, a new short film offers us a unique perspective of a terrible scenario: a child sees with her own eyes how her family’s home is raided.

Dia de las Carpas is an award-winning, imaginative and sweet story about a girl that transforms into a mermaid to escape deportation after her family is taken by ICE. This 15-minute whimsical film is unique in that it tells the powerful story through the eyes of the young character, Jonathan, played by Tony Garcia. 

The film foregrounds the despair children of these situations can encounter when experiencing a grownup problem. The fantasy-adventure picture explores the serious subject-matter, successfully delivering its message in a sensitive and endearing way. It forced me to seriously consider the children that bear witness to ICE raids or are ripped from their parents’ side. The short reflects a different perspective and is sure to tug at your heartstrings, as did mine.

I had the opportunity to sit with Brazilian Director Joao Dall’Stella and actors Hector Atreyu Ruiz and Tony Garcia for a Zoom meeting to discuss this beautiful story.

What was your goal when directing this film, and what impact did you hope to have on the audience?

(Director, Joao): I wanted to make a story that was relevant. It was important to have something people could relate to and connect with, so they’d be inclined to join this journey. There is a sense of magic in the film when showing how a child feels and sees the world. When creating the journey, there is a bit of a whimsical vision that a viewer can imagine feeling at 10. I wanted to bring that experience to life for those that see it.

Hector, it’s safe to say you are the most intense character we get to see on the screen. Do you believe seeing your family’s troubles and being at the center of the turmoil created by deportation had a direct effect on the direction your life took? If so, how?

(Actor, Hector): UNEQUIVOCALLY! The events that took place set off a chain of events in my life, including incarceration, but I feel blessed to have come out of things and be part of this masterful piece directed by the talented Joao. “This film found me” it had to be done. Initially, I learned of the film and thought it was too small. Joao and I met at a coffee shop and connected. I knew then it would be a blessing to be a part of this project.

During the film’s last scene, you firmly stood up to ICE agents when they came for the young immigrant girl, Esme. Where did you draw from such a young age to present yourself with such confidence in that scene, and what was going through your mind? 

(Actor, Tony) I know many people have gone through the situation. My thoughts were with all those that have experienced the same thing in their life.  I know the emotions that come from the family because my aunt was deported. It made me feel very sad.

What was your biggest challenge in balancing the young characters with such a strong lead, ensuring that everyone delivers their message the way you envisioned it?

(Director, Joao): As a director, we have to make choices. The story is being told from the main character, Tony’s point of view. He was a hero of sorts. Therefore, I wanted to reflect that on the audience. Compromises needed to be made by all. Sometimes, not everyone will get a close-up. To give punctuations throughout the storyline, we have to figure out the proper shots to get the magical tone we want to set.

You’ve had your share of adversity, but you did not let it hinder progress. You dug deeper to become a better you. What was the turning point for you?

(Actor, Hector): It happened the last time I was released from jail at the age of 21. I had no ride home, no money for the bus home. I walked 10 miles from prison to my house. As I arrived at the “hood” (neighborhood) looked around, it was the same as I had left it. In and out of trouble for a while, this was the moment that changed everything. The pivot had to happen now. I had to make a change. I was not going to waste more time. I got in my old Mustang that didn’t have air-conditioning but got me around. Drove myself to the local community college, standing outside, overwhelmed with a feeling of being lost. At that moment, I crossed paths with a school counselor that happened to work there; almost in tears, I said to him, “I don’t know where anything is. I’m just someone that wants to turn his life around.” My life changed on that day.

Can you offer a positive message, quote, or mantra to help those dealing with a lack of security, poverty, troubles at home, or fear for their own families facing deportation?

(Director, Joao): Don’t lose your child self, the one that believes in miracles. Hold on to your fighting spirit, and remember that the next day can be better.

(Actor, Tony): If you are at your lowest point, it may help to think of someone else. Place the focus on someone you love or do something for another person. Changing your mindset can change your mood or help you feel a bit better.

(Actor, Hector): I conduct myself, keep growing, and remain humble by remembering – “Never above me. Never below you. Always your equal.” Embrace the inconvenience, don’t be afraid of it. Being brave means having no fear but being courageous is having fear and overcoming it. Ask yourself which one are you?

On October 8, 2020, Dia De Las Carpas won the DGA Best Latin Director award. João Dall’Stella displayed his short film at the prestigious and Oscar-qualifying LA Shorts Fest. During the festival, the short film will be available on YouTube for audiences to view for free. I recommend investing a few minutes to check it out!