10/2015 – 12/2015
I made it to 35.
I say that with humility, without irony, or jest—knowing that I have peers that have had their lives rerouted, or cut short altogether.
I’ve been blessed by opportunities, and unyielding support from my family, from Jessica, from my friends.
The faith that my peers have in my abilities is something I try to remember daily and hold close.
But the melancholy doesn’t seem to subside. Perhaps it’s choosing to constantly look at struggle, or maybe it’s the tenacity of hope that calls attention to how far we’ve come as Americans, and how very far we’ve left to go.
I’ve been having trouble thinking about how to frame, and write about the last pair of families that I’ve visited for Passing Grounds.
There’s the family of Darrien Hunt. 22 years old. African American, Caucasian. A handsome fellow, deeply passionate about his family, anime, and hip hop from the ilk of Immortal Technique, and Tech N9ne. He died running from Saratoga Springs Police in Utah.
The family of Ja Ma Lo Day. 21 years old. Karen Burmese, a refugee. Ja Ma lived with his sister in an apartment building complex with refugees from different parts of southeast Asia. Deeply into Tupac Shakur and video games. He died in his sister’s apartment in San Diego.
The difficulty in writing about these final experiences have everything to do with the facts presented to me, carried by the heft of the heart and soul of Darrien’s and Ja Ma’s families. Susan Hunt, Darrien’s mother, who welcomed me into her home brought me closest to my limitations as an individual, filmmaker/artist or otherwise—with her anguish washed over me in our first physical meeting. I watched her face express an inexplicable amount of pain and anger, and in turn, I looked helpless and hapless, grasping at her ruptured world, an experience and grief that could never be repaired by this film. Not that I set out to do so, but the impact documentary work, or any storytelling form, is often held unaccountable—and I could not account as to whether or not the film I was doing would ever come close to transferring her pain unto an audience.
In silence, I sat.
My tears held back, only because it would be unfair to burden her any more.
I gripped the same silence when I listened to Ja Ma’s cousin, a young man of 13 years, who translated his aunt’s words for me, as the camera rolled in the humble two bedroom apartment. The complex seemed to house recent immigrants from southeast Asia, many would walk by while we recorded, curious, but never hostile. The space was familiar—it bore the same qualities of the home I grew up in when I first moved to San Diego with my family. At the time we moved in, our home made due with whatever a home could be with a full-time mother and a full-time father out to work. It carried the essence of how my mom and dad grew up in the Philippines, a space with qualities of improvisation, to create the illusion of completeness. Ja Ma’s sister’s apartment carried those same elements—with the large area rugs, an aged wooden stool, barely 8 inches high to support you in seated position as you prep cooked, the bright colors of diaphanous fabrics, pregnant by a distant ocean breeze. Ja Ma was afflicted with bipolar disorder, and would often stray from his schedule of taking his medications. A week long without medicine contributed to his death, and the propensity for violence and an abysmal lack of mental health services attached to law enforcement would be the more significant factor in Ja Ma’s death. Ja Ma’s cousin explained that they often recited Tupac lyrics, often played video games. Ja Ma’s teen cousin pointed to the part of the carpet where Ja Ma lay, the area rug they put down covered the blood stains—a final effort by the family to keep the space clean, after having to clean the floor and walls themselves. They still seek answers, but it’s difficult to tell if they’re angry. I’m not sure how to process that expression of grief.
So the camera documents. With an objective, scientific eye the camera seeks out these spaces of loss, spaces to be remembered, and recalled. The frame of these images are silent, sometimes unbearably so, because they remain, and they are real. As of this writing, more sites spring up. Our exhaustion, our indignation is undeniable, and the conversations that ebb and flow from these sentiments point to the need for resolution, be it revolution, but never resignation. Our society may have seemed static, but the human rights violations that occur on our shores are being reckoned with, it seems that no one can stand idly by, more now than ever.
I sit with this footage now, and will spend the next several months editing, and raising funds for it (however, if you’re interested in donating now, which I totally and humbly encourage—please feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org). I’ll come up for air occasionally, and I’ll see you around.