He was born in the United States, a Puerto Rican baby boy named Guillermo Morales. But his “double life” began at 13 months, when his parents sent him away to be raised in secret, under another name. So for years he grew up in Mexico, as Ernesto, the oldest son in the Gomez Gomez family. When he turned 10, his Mexican parents told him the truth about himself, about his birth parents and why they sent him away. He was born the son of Puerto Rican revolutionaries. His father, hunted by U.S. authorities, had escaped to exile in Cuba. His mother, sentenced to a U.S. prison for 55 years, had him raised in Mexico for his own safety.
Years later, the stunning revelation of his double identity sends Ernesto Gomez Gomez, at age 15, on a complex and uneasy journey to pick up the threads of his life as Guillermo Morales, son of the imprisoned Dylcia Pagán and the fugitive Guillermo, Sr. The story of this remarkable voyage of self-discovery is told in a stunning new film, The Double Life of Ernesto Gomez Gomez, airing July 27, 10:00 PM ET on POV (check local listings), PBS’ acclaimed showcase of independent non-fiction films.
The complex journey of the teenaged Ernesto/Guillermo takes him from his home in Chihuahua to the Federal prison near San Francisco, where he meets his birth mother for the first time. Still grieving over their separation, she is overjoyed to see her lost son. Reclaiming his birth name, Guillermo enrolls in a local high school to be near his mother. During weekly visits, mother and son try to recover some part of the relationship they never had. Motivated by his mother’s situation and her fierce commitment to her political convictions, Guillermo involves himself in the movement to free Puerto Rican Independistas from U.S. jails. He also applies for and receives American citizenship to fully realize his new identity.
Eventually, Guillermo teams up with Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmakers Gary Weimberg and Catherine Ryan to document his struggles to reconcile having two pasts, two languages, and even three countries. During intimate moments in the film, Guillermo reveals himself to be more pensive and torn over the new life that has been thrust on him than he appears on stage at rallies or in magazine articles about his mother. He’s also frustrated by the limitations that Dylcia’s imprisonment places on their relationship. Guillermo experiences much of the typical teenage confusion about identity —– in his case, multiplied exponentially by the burdens of history and cultural conflict. Is Ernesto dead? Sometimes he is not so sure.
The Double Life of Ernesto Gomez Gomezis a striking self-portrait of the costs of profound political idealism in one family. It confronts issues of adoption, immigration, colonialism, and love merged into a single mesmerizing teen odyssey. The film combines interviews and archival footage with more expressionistic sequences in which Ernesto/Guillermo tries to communicate the feeling of being catapulted from one reality into another.
“Imagine you’re a teenager and you’ve just found out that your mother is in prison for her political beliefs,” says director Weimberg. “Then trying to understand why her love of an entire nation — Puerto Rico — required such extreme personal sacrifices.” “Ernesto’s life is chock full of huge issues but also of everyday teenage stuff,” adds producer Ryan. “Ernesto’s story may be particularly dramatic, but all teenagers face questions like Ernesto’s as they try to understand who they are in relation to a bigger world.”