PBS Premiere: Aug. 27, 2002Check the broadcast schedule »

Ask the Filmmaker

Viewer Question: I am curious how you might interpret the educational system you gleaned from the Escuela project. It simply seems evident to me that Liliana's attitude towards school had at least as much to do with the pedagogy (and I mean here the whole public school experience) she was exposed to as did her and her family's moving across the country twice a year. With that said, how did you 'feel' when you were with her, in her different school settings, drinking in that specific subculture of the public schools? Aside from what I perceived as Liliana's normal spells of immaturity, how did you feel when she was given various helpings of condescension and the like? Given the time and focus spent on this film, do you have any ideas regarding what might be done to improve the way it is with migrant children's education? If so, what are they?

Weyer: I agree with you. I believe that Liliana's high school experience was (and still is) very much shaped by the school system she inhabits: the educators, campus policies regarding curriculum, standardized testing, bilingual education and current views on assisting "special needs" students. But I also find it hard to separate her experience in this world from the fact that she and her family migrate throughout the school year and that this pattern also has an effect on the school system itself. I would say that in general, the teachers in the schools I visited did their best to handle the influx and outflux of migrating students. As in any profession though, some were simply better at their jobs than others -- more patient, more empathetic, better at offering up the curriculum in an interesting, dynamic way, etc. I would imagine though that it would be like having the rug pulled out from underneath you if every time you started to witness a student progress and grow and learn (knowing that you had helped make this happen) that student simply stopped attending your class mid-semester. I would imagine this would be frustrating and have a cumulative effect -- whether positive or negative -- on one's commitment to the job.

On the flip side of this, for Liliana and students like her, missing days and weeks of school, never coming into the same curriculum, or, never coming into the same place in the curriculum each time you enter a school would make any child, I would guess, come to a certain understanding of what school means and what school can actually offer. And with this understanding, I believe Liliana very early on probably figured out her own personal set of coping strategies to keep her head above water -- both socially and educationally.

I don't have a simple answer for your final question. In making this film, I spent a lot of time speaking with people who have dedicated their professional lives to bettering the educational experience for students who migrate. They are still looking for answers. A few things we have discussed more recently: 1) older students mentoring younger migrant students, 2) helping migrant students learn to self-advocate, 3) further outreach into the parent community, and 4) creating host-family scenarios so that older students might finish out the school year in one state. But ultimately, until local economies improve in our own backyards, parents will continue to find ways to keep their families afloat.

Viewer Question: Ms. Weyer, I wanted to thank you for your intimate portrayal of migrant living. I have some experience with families that have settled into the poultry and timber industries after working as migrant farmworkers here in northeast Texas. My question is this, are the schools and communities that you visited armed with the proper resources to assist students like Lili? I live in a community that has seen the Spanish speaking population boom and the schools are not ready. I will be running a grant funded community center for these families in an attempt to assist but feel helpless at times. My hope is that there are model programs out there that have success in assisting families like the Luis'.

Weyer: The schools that I visited did seem equipped with many resources including migrant centers on campus, computers, standardized work books that covered lessons in English, Math, Science, etc. and caring individuals who were there to support and assist migrating students. But it seems that there are so many factors working against the educational standards that the kids (and educators) are always swimming upstream. For example, even though the Luis family has a pretty set path in terms of their work moving them between Texas and California, for most migrant families, work demands that they travel all over the United States as their work locations change every season, every year. And because the work season does not prescribe to school semesters, children are coming and going throughout the year, making it very easy for them and their education to slip through the cracks -- even with resources in place to assist them.

It is encouraging to hear that you are running a community center to help migrant families. In getting to know the Luis family and witnessing first hand their day to day struggles, I can empathize with you with regards to your feelings of "helplessness." At times it seems overwhelming to think of solutions when the problem is so complex, especially when the variables of economics, culture, and education are intrinsically linked. There is a list of resources on this website and I strongly suggest that you contact people at the National Migrant Education Association as a starting point. This organization might be able to offer suggestions concerning your specific needs with regards to the community center.

Viewer Question: The whole series of films was very interesting and well done. They document a "lost era" prior to 9/11 that will not return I fear. The whole atmosphere of potential immigration reform vis-a-vis Fox and Bush seems dead now and we will limp along for quite some time. I see things getting tighter for migrants in so far as jobs and education and legalization. National identity cards could be on the horizon because of the need for increased homeland security. Do you agree?

Weyer: I understand your point completely re: national identity cards. In some ways though I feel that there are already mechanisms in place that make this a moot point. For example, we already have checkpoints on U.S. highways (up and running long before Sept. 11) as witnessed in the film. The Luis family, who are U.S. citizens, had to show proof of citizenship, I believe, because of the color of their skin/ethnic appearance. I, on the other hand -- being half Caucasian, half Japanese -- have driven numerous times up to these check points only to be waved through by the guard on duty.

In terms of "immigration reform," I believe that economics are the driving force in our government's policies (though they may be taking a temporary backseat to "security") and the reform you speak of will happen because it is economically inevitable. We can't continue to oppress the worker force and the environment of other countries in the interest of cheap goods forever. There is a rising anti-globalization movement here in the U.S., especially on college campuses, that is gaining ground and, like the anti-Vietnam war and anti-apartheid movements, I think it will affect policy in the future.

Viewer Question: I just happened to be surfing the channels last night when I came upon Escuela. I was glued to the screen the entire time. Is there more to the story? Will this be a series? I really enjoyed this film and would love to see more...

Weyer: The documentary was very much a follow-up to an earlier film I made called La Boda. This story also focused on the Luis family and in particular on Liliana's older sister, Elizabeth, who plays a prominent role in Escuela. It is possible that down the line, the Luis family and I may work together again on a "part 3" that might answer some of the open-endedness of the other two films. For example, does Liliana graduate from high school and if so, what are her goals regarding life after high school? Does Elizabeth find work outside of the fields, does her husband get his citizenship papers, do they find work and settle down in one location... But for now, Liliana is focusing on school and Elizabeth is living in Houston with her husband.

Viewer Question: How did you choose this subject matter? I definitely could relate since my mother was born in Mora, New Mexico and only got an elementary school education. My sister teaches migrant kids in El Monte, California. After watching I felt blessed not to have to go through what migrant kids go through.

Weyer: Before making Escuela, I made a documentary called La Boda which follows Elizabeth, at 22 years old, in the weeks leading up to her wedding. During the making of the film, Elizabeth and I became very good friends and she shared many stories about what high school life was like for her as a migrant student. Elizabeth talked about the pressures of working during the school year in order to help support her family, of having to leave school mid-semester when her family looked for work in the agricultural circuit and the toll all of this took, both on her ability to learn and on her ability to make and keep friends. "La Boda" contains a "chapter" that focuses on Elizabeth's high school experience, but I felt that the stories she had shared could support an entire film that showed the pressures all migrant students experience. Liliana, Elizabeth's younger sister, was just about to start her freshman year of high school and I asked her if she would be interested in working with me on the film. Liliana, who is a bright, spirited teenager, readily agreed.

Viewer Question: I saw your film and I'm interested to know what happened to Liliana. Did she graduate?

Weyer: Liliana is a senior this year, dividing her time between Shafter High School in California and La Joya High School in Texas. She is still struggling with her grades, especially math, but her favorite school activity is flags which she does regularly with the Shafter High Color Guard. She also has a steady boyfriend who is from Shafter, California and who is considering going into the army now that he has graduated from high school. In terms of her dreams of life after high school, Liliana is thinking a lot about trying to apply to dance schools across the country.