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What does building a human rights movement look like?

“It’s not about immigrant rights, it’s about human rights. We are all human.” So began a transformative weekend of leadership training by Gabriela Castañeda of the Movement for Immigrant Rights in Pennsylvania (MILPA), part of our upcoming documentary film Borderland.  The core idea at the heart of the training is that by knowing one’s rights, especially the amendments to the U.S. Constitution that protect all people living in the U.S. no matter what their immigration status, is key. This knowledge takes away some of the fear of deportation that immigrants face, and replaces it with organizing methods that help build families, communities and indeed, a movement. 

Think Ella Baker, behind the scenes quietly building leadership in the Civil Rights Movement. Think Willie Baptist, from a homeless position of powerlessness, creating a pedagogy of the poor and insisting that a know-your-rights education and the poor leading the poor was the key to creating strong leadership in the National Welfare Rights Union. Enter Gabriela Castañeda, a talented young immigrant organizer, originally part of the Border Network for Human Rights based in Texas, who is now going national with her leadership charisma and training skills. 

You could see the terror of deportation drop away and the empowered expressions of new, smart, predominantly female leadership emerging. As we were filming I asked Gabriela what she sees when she looks out at the faces of her trainees listening, and she said, “I see myself. I was them. I didn’t think I had any rights and by learning about them, it freed me.”  

Stay tuned for some deeply emotional scenes from the inside of building a movement when we release Borderland. Because the border is everywhere for the 11 million undocumented immigrants that can be detained and deported no matter where they are in the country. 


Sara Curruchich partnered with Lila Downs to perform the original song “Pueblos” premiering the music video on International Day for Indigenous Peoples / Día Internacional por los pueblos indígenas. Sara wrote and performed “Hijas de la tierra” for our film 500 Years. She is the first person to sing both in Maya Kaqchiquel and Spanish on the international stage, having performed throughout Latin America, Europe and the U.S. Watch the “Pueblos” video here.

State corruption is displacing Guatemalans

L to r: María Cedillo, Maya Ixil human rights defender and Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj, Maya K’iche author. Photo: Skylight

The Biden administration continues to negotiate with the corrupt Guatemalan government. Maya-K’iche’ author, journalist, poet, and member of Skylight’s Board of Directors, Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj offers a way forward for the Biden administration to address the root causes of migration, rather than criminalizing people forced out of their communities as they flee corruption and instability. Read her op-ed here.

Shining Path leader dies in Peru

Abimael Guzmán, head of the Shining Path, has died in prison while serving a life sentence for terrorism. The Shining Path was responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, the story we tell in our film based on the Peruvian Truth Commission’s findings, State of Fear. The film tells the story of how fear of terrorism was used to undermine democracy, making Peru a virtual dictatorship under Alberto Fujimori who formed a security state where official corruption replaced the rule of law. Sound familiar?  Watch the trailer and access the full film here.

Pamela Yates

Pamela Yates is a an award-winning filmmaker and co-founder/Creative Director of Skylight Pictures, a company dedicated to creating feature length documentary films and digital media tools that advance awareness of human rights and the quest for justice by implementing multi-year outreach campaigns designed to engage, educate and activate social change.

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