Presentation Title

Sister Cities

Authors' Names

Alyson Spery

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Abstract/Artist Statement

In the early ‘90s, a man from Tlaxcala, Mexico traveled to a Wyoming dude ranch for work. Though he followed a long lineage of migratory workers, he marked the first Tlaxcalan to arrive in Jackson Hole. But he was not the last.

Today, 30% of residents in Teton County, Wyoming are of Mexican descent, and the majority of them hail from Tlaxcala state. While the Teton County School District reports over 40% of their students speak Spanish as their first language, general enrollment at the primary school in San Simeon, Tlaxcala has dropped in half. Meanwhile, all around Tlaxcala, the construction of new homes (built with money made in the US) marks the promise to return to Mexico.

Although we are a country founded by immigrants, Americans talk about immigration (especially from Mexico) with a growing sense of fear: the fear of “criminals”, “rapists”, and “drug dealers”. Americans must get to know their Mexican neighbors. We need to see each other, eye to eye.

With a team of filmmakers and educators, our grassroots organization (Eye to Eye Media) will teach documentary storytelling skills through instruction and mentorship so these communities can take cameras in their own hands in order to tell their own stories, through their own lens. Spanning more than two years, our flagship community media project entitled Sister Cities, will produce a canon of films from Mexicans living on both sides of the border by spending one year, on location, in each place: Jackson Hole, WY and Tlaxcala, MX. This two-year project culminates with screenings in both countries as well as a web-based platform to host the entire collection.

No documentary on immigration is as ambitious or as authentic as Sister Cities because these films are not about, but by the immigrants themselves. And now, more than ever, we need to hear these stories. As racial tensions heighten in the US over immigration, Sister Cities provides an avenue for a vulnerable population to take ownership over their own representation. Each story contributes to creating a multi-faceted (and multi-faced) narrative about the immigrant experience in America today.

Sample narratives include the Garcia family, who work in Jackson so they can afford to build a house in Mexico. Now that its built, they must decide between renting and raising their four children in Jackson or returning to Mexico for good. Though the kids were born in the US, their parents, once they cross the US border, can never go back to the place they’ve called home for almost 20 years. Then there is Ivan who has never felt the sense of belonging to any specific place. He emigrated at nine years old with his parents, and although he has US residency, he will never visit Mexico. Since his family in Tlaxcala lives like their above the law, the danger is too great for him to return even to see his last living grandparent. Back in San Simeon, the elderly doña Maria is supported by the remittances from her four children who all live in Jackson. Without their financial support she would be homeless, yet without their physical support she is left to care for herself by herself. These are just a few of the stories from the sister cities.

Since studying documentary filmmaking, I spent the past two years producing immigration stories driven by the participants themselves: from Renga for the West (premiered at 2018 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival) and Bon Polis: Immigration Lovestories (currently in production). Through these experiences, I learned the importance of owning and directing your own story, especially for otherwise underrepresented people. In October of 2018, I visited Tlaxcala to successfully garner the support of the local community in San Simeon to launch the second phase of this project in 2020. Currently, in Jackson, I am establishing local partnerships and recruiting participants to launch production in May of 2019.

The real humanitarian crisis at our border is the loss of humanity. We no longer see the people entering the US as anyone like us. Many contemporary documentary films address this issue, but none allow the subjects to direct the films themselves. If Americans want to understand immigration, we need to see it through the perspective of those that experience it. Films are our most powerful communication tool. By compiling compelling stories into self-directed films, Sister Cities reshapes the public narrative so we begin to see each other eye to eye.

Mentor Name

Michael Murphy

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Feb 22nd, 4:00 PM Feb 22nd, 4:15 PM

Sister Cities

UC North Ballroom

In the early ‘90s, a man from Tlaxcala, Mexico traveled to a Wyoming dude ranch for work. Though he followed a long lineage of migratory workers, he marked the first Tlaxcalan to arrive in Jackson Hole. But he was not the last.

Today, 30% of residents in Teton County, Wyoming are of Mexican descent, and the majority of them hail from Tlaxcala state. While the Teton County School District reports over 40% of their students speak Spanish as their first language, general enrollment at the primary school in San Simeon, Tlaxcala has dropped in half. Meanwhile, all around Tlaxcala, the construction of new homes (built with money made in the US) marks the promise to return to Mexico.

Although we are a country founded by immigrants, Americans talk about immigration (especially from Mexico) with a growing sense of fear: the fear of “criminals”, “rapists”, and “drug dealers”. Americans must get to know their Mexican neighbors. We need to see each other, eye to eye.

With a team of filmmakers and educators, our grassroots organization (Eye to Eye Media) will teach documentary storytelling skills through instruction and mentorship so these communities can take cameras in their own hands in order to tell their own stories, through their own lens. Spanning more than two years, our flagship community media project entitled Sister Cities, will produce a canon of films from Mexicans living on both sides of the border by spending one year, on location, in each place: Jackson Hole, WY and Tlaxcala, MX. This two-year project culminates with screenings in both countries as well as a web-based platform to host the entire collection.

No documentary on immigration is as ambitious or as authentic as Sister Cities because these films are not about, but by the immigrants themselves. And now, more than ever, we need to hear these stories. As racial tensions heighten in the US over immigration, Sister Cities provides an avenue for a vulnerable population to take ownership over their own representation. Each story contributes to creating a multi-faceted (and multi-faced) narrative about the immigrant experience in America today.

Sample narratives include the Garcia family, who work in Jackson so they can afford to build a house in Mexico. Now that its built, they must decide between renting and raising their four children in Jackson or returning to Mexico for good. Though the kids were born in the US, their parents, once they cross the US border, can never go back to the place they’ve called home for almost 20 years. Then there is Ivan who has never felt the sense of belonging to any specific place. He emigrated at nine years old with his parents, and although he has US residency, he will never visit Mexico. Since his family in Tlaxcala lives like their above the law, the danger is too great for him to return even to see his last living grandparent. Back in San Simeon, the elderly doña Maria is supported by the remittances from her four children who all live in Jackson. Without their financial support she would be homeless, yet without their physical support she is left to care for herself by herself. These are just a few of the stories from the sister cities.

Since studying documentary filmmaking, I spent the past two years producing immigration stories driven by the participants themselves: from Renga for the West (premiered at 2018 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival) and Bon Polis: Immigration Lovestories (currently in production). Through these experiences, I learned the importance of owning and directing your own story, especially for otherwise underrepresented people. In October of 2018, I visited Tlaxcala to successfully garner the support of the local community in San Simeon to launch the second phase of this project in 2020. Currently, in Jackson, I am establishing local partnerships and recruiting participants to launch production in May of 2019.

The real humanitarian crisis at our border is the loss of humanity. We no longer see the people entering the US as anyone like us. Many contemporary documentary films address this issue, but none allow the subjects to direct the films themselves. If Americans want to understand immigration, we need to see it through the perspective of those that experience it. Films are our most powerful communication tool. By compiling compelling stories into self-directed films, Sister Cities reshapes the public narrative so we begin to see each other eye to eye.