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Santa Rosa nonprofit celebrates decade of sharing stories, dreams of immigrants

"I'm just a young guy, trying to make a living and growing up in a country that is my home, the only home I've known."

Those are the words of Diego, a Mexican immigrant and DACA recipient profiled in one of the films made by the Santa Rosa-based nonprofit My American Dreams Foundation. The local group makes films for PBS and other media that tell compelling stories of immigrants – young people with DACA, persons deported from the U.S., and refugees from violence and terror in their home countries.

This month, My American Dreams celebrates ten years of nonprofit advocacy on behalf of immigrants. Its films have been primarily about North Bay immigrants and have are promoted by local PBS affiliate KRCB / Northern California Public Media. The producer of their films is Rhian Miller, a professional filmmaker with 25 years of experience working with PBS, who lives in Monte Rio.

The group's films have aired over a hundred times across the PBS nationwide network. They are also on YouTube and Facebook and are available on their website: www.MyAmericanDreams.org. My American Dreams and its work were featured in the PBS magazine "Current." http://current.org/2016/11/short-films-examine-impact-of-immigration-law-on-undocumented-youth/

The mission of My American Dreams is to reach the hearts and minds of Americans by providing insight into the lives and struggles of immigrants who survive, thrive and contribute despite their undocumented status. In addition to making films, the organization makes public presentations, publishes articles on the immigrant experience, and disseminates bilingual information on immigration law.

The film project

In 2018, My American Dreams produced a feature film, "The Only Home I Know," with Pulitzer-prize-winning reporter Jose Antonio Vargas. The documentary film tells the story behind Vargas' high profile exposé of himself as an undocumented immigrant.

The film's first part is devoted to his story, and then Mr. Vargas introduces the DACA recipients' stories. These are profiles of six young DREAMers—most from Sonoma County. The film follows their lives before and after DACA and recounts their inspiring contributions to their communities since obtaining a work permit and reprieve from deportation through DACA. You can watch the film on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbysdqYqFjA&t=2s

The videos

My American Dreams has produced and broadcast over ten short films on the PBS network. Here's a sampling:

"Diego and Giovanni" is a story of two friends, children of immigrant families who graduated from high school in Rohnert Park and then four years of college together at Sonoma State. But Giovanni was born here while Diego was undocumented. Their legal status made a big difference in their day-to-day lives—until DACA opened the door for Diego to obtain professional work, travel and have a future in the U.S. "Suddenly he was like a new person," explains Giovanni. "He could travel without fear for the first time, and he took a trip cross-country for his brother's graduation at Harvard. It was like no-holds-barred".

"This is the U.S.," tells the story of Marcos and Nicole. Nicole is a native of Manchester, Tennessee, who fell in love with Marcos, a Mexican immigrant in the process of applying for status through the courts. They married 20 years ago and had two boys born in the U.S., Alonzo and Marcos Jr.Nicole was an administrator at a local factory while Marcos got work as a foreman in a roofing company. Suddenly, Marcos' immigration case was denied, and he was ordered deported and given three months to leave the country. The whole family moved to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where they narrated their story in the film. Nicole explains in her clear Tennessee accent: "People ask me why I married a person without papers. But I loved him for him. His immigration status did not have a play in that."

The film was produced in conjunction with Caminamos Juntos, a nonprofit in Mexico that works with deportee families.

Angela Tang is the subject of "Angela. "Angela came to the U.S. from Taiwan with her high-tech professional father. They were here legally on visas and the path to a green card when her father suddenly died of a heart attack, leaving her an orphan and undocumented. Efforts to adopt her failed when the process was finalized too late, and she faced deportation.DACA restored her legal status, and then marriage to a U.S. citizen, Eric, allowed her to get a green card.

Now Angela is a U.S. citizen

"We have this perception that undocumented immigrants are only Hispanics," says Angela. "But in reality, it's people coming in from Europe, from Asia. It could be your next-door neighbor who just moved in from China."

The public presentations

Part of the organization’s work is to make educate Americans about immigration law, dispel certain myths about immigrants and humanize the immigrant story. My American Dreams has made over 150 public presentations throughout Sonoma County and Northern California—at universities (including U.C. Berkeley, Sonoma State, Napa Valley College and Mendocino College), many local high schools, senior citizen centers, the Sonoma County public libraries, political party events, Chambers of Commerce and Bar Associations, wineries and other businesses, and many professional conferences.

At a fund-raising event in Sebastopol Arts Center in 2017, the organization raised over $10,0000, used in part to provide relief for victims of the Tubbs Fire. Another organization event at The Green Center featured Vargas's speech and clips from the group's films. KRCB / Sonoma Media has broadcast several programs devoted to the groups' films and featuring interviews with several DREAMers and information about DACA.

Upcoming projects

My American Dream has several films in production. One is a film about a refugee family from Ukraine whose patriarch is a doctor who volunteered to treat victims of the Chernobyl accident and now has cancer. The family, who recently was given temporary refuge in the U.S., was the subject of an earlier article here (https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/a-daughters-letter-to-her-father-a-ukrainian-hero/ ).

There are more films in process in conjunction with Caminamos Juntos about deported families living in Mexico. Finally, there is a film about a nurse on the front lines of the COVID battles in Sonoma County who won her deportation case. With the easing of the COVID crisis, My American Dreams is planning to also resume public events in 2023.

The 501(c )(3) nonprofit is an entire volunteer project; all donated funds go into producing and disseminating the films. The organization relies primarily on private donations, but they have received grants from Sonoma County and CalHumanities.

Here is where to go to see the group's videos and get more information about their projects:

Website https://www.myamericandreams.org/

Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/myamericandreams

Donations are tax-deductible and can be made through the website or by mail to My American Dreams, 131A Stony Circle, #475, Santa Rosa, Ca. 95401.

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