From walking across the border to walking the red carpet this weekend, the lives of three Bowie students are now forever immortalized on the silver screen thanks to a documentary that premiered at the famous Tribeca Film Festival this weekend.
Bowie graduates Shyanne Murguia and Erik Espinoza and senior Francisco Mata travelled to New York Saturday to attend the premiere of “Home + Away,” a documentary that followed their daily lives as students coping with the reality of living along the U.S.-Mexico border and conforming to a traditional American high-school experience.
“For these students to participate in this documentary is a life-changing experience,” said Simon Chandler, Community Schools coordinator. Chandler escorted the students to the film’s premiere in New York City.
“Their stories are not unique – they represent what a lot of our students go through. These three students realized they represent Bowie and El Paso, and that they are ambassadors for our border community,” Chandler added. “I think they recognize not only the opportunity that they have but also the responsibility to help people understand what makes our students so resourceful and resilient.”
The documentary debuted in New York over the weekend. The filmmakers are planning an El Paso premiere soon.
Bowie was chosen for its proximity to Juárez. The campus sits just yards from the Rio Grande.
The film crew followed the students around for a year, documenting their lives as athletes, students and members of the border community.
Murguia never imagined her life would be showcased in a movie.
“It’s been an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. It showed some of the things we have to go through at Bowie High School,” she said. “My parents got divorced when I was six. I don’t really have a relationship with my dad. We always had it rough. That’s why it felt really great to show my mom her hard work paid off when I graduated and now that I’m studying at Midland College.”
She hopes the documentary has a lasting impression, inspiring others to persevere and dream big.
“The message I want to be shown from my life is that anything is possible. You can overcome the problems you are facing,” she said. “I want people to be strong, not dwell on the bad things and focus on the future because when you get older everything changes.”
For Espinoza, the documentary was the culmination of all the years he spent walking back and forth between Mexico and the United States. During the week he would stay with his grandma in El Paso and on Friday would walk to Juarez to be with his parents until Monday morning when he headed back with his suitcase.
“Truthfully, the movie made me cry looking back at the whole experience. It really focused on all the things I lived through,” he said. “The experience taught me that if you want something in life, you will have to work for it and you will have to make sacrifices.”
The biggest sacrifice for Espinoza was not being able to spend more time with his parents.
“It’s difficult because you go through important moments without your parents and you feel that need for them. They couldn’t come to my graduation, but I am thankful for the camera crew who recorded it live for them to watch,” he said. “It was truly a beautiful moment for them and for me because they sacrificed a lot to send me to school over here.”
Senior Francisco Mata’s heart is divided by the same concrete barrier. He lives with his mother in El Paso, trekking his way across the bridge every weekend to spend time with his father in Juarez.
“My mother is my right hand and my father is my left,” he said. “I cannot live without either of them.”
Filmmakers said the documentary is not meant to provide political commentary on the immigration issues that have made headlines recently. Director Matt Ogens, who is based out of Los Angeles and spent months in El Paso following Bowie students, said the film simply gives a glimpse of how these issues impact those living along the border.
“We all have opinions and judgments on either side of the debate. But often with the news we take a stand or a side from wherever we’re sitting … and we rarely check in with the people affected by the border on either side and see how they feel,” Ogens told the Texas Monthly earlier this month.
For the Bowie students, though, the film was simply an opportunity to showcase the magic of the border and – specifically – Bowie High School.
“We are making history. It has given us motivation to keep working hard and win more games,” said Mata, who is often referred to as “Matita” by his friends and coaches. “I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy and excited.”
The senior was all smiles after the team’s second district championship win this year and having been able to fly for the first time to New York for the premiere.
“Everyone received us very well,” he said. “The movie would end, and we would see people in tears, so everything we have gone through was worth it because they can see how we fight for what we want.”
The three students have forged an unbreakable bond through it all.
“We didn’t know each other that well at first but now it feels like we have known each other for years,” Murguia said. “We are so close now. We feel like a family. Coming back, it feels weird to be separated from each other.”
And that’s how it is at Bowie: a family, a community.
“I want to tell the community in the south side to never lower your head to anyone that tries to make you feel less,” Espinoza said. “Keep fighting for your dreams because anything is possible. It doesn’t matter how many times you fall. What matters is how many times you get up.”
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