When Noemi Librado-Sanchez, her sister and two cousins first decided to travel to southern Mexico from their homes in California and Washington to visit an ailing grandparent they had never met in person, they had no idea the experience would become an award-winning documentary.
Now the film that the four young people directed, “First Time Home,” is coming to San Diego as part of the Latino Film Festival, where it will be screened on Saturday. It highlights their experiences as an Indigenous immigrant farmworker family on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“For it to be our first film and be where it is now, I’m just really thankful, and I sometimes don’t even know how else to express — it’s crazy,” said Librado-Sanchez, 17, who will fly down from Washington to attend the screening. The film won the Rising Voices Award at the Portland Film Festival and a Gold Award at the Spotlight Film Awards.
After her family learned that her grandfather was seriously ill in 2016, the four cousins planned to go for the first time to Oaxaca, the place their parents left behind when they immigrated to the United States. Seth Holmes, a medical anthropologist who had known the family since before Librado-Sanchez was born, agreed to go with them.
They talked about making video letters to share with the family members on each side of the border about what life was like for their far away loved ones. At some point, they realized it might be an interesting project to share with a wider audience.
Holmes became the film’s producer and got grant money so that the four cousins could be trained in shooting and directing a documentary. Once the editing process began, they included the whole family, sending new takes to everyone for feedback.
The film happens across three languages — English, Spanish and Triqui, the Indigenous language spoken by their parents and relatives in Oaxaca — with subtitles in English and Spanish simultaneously when needed so that speakers of each can watch together.
Growing up in Washington, Librado-Sanchez was often bullied and felt like an outsider, she said. But her trip to Oaxaca gave her a sense of pride in who she is.
And audiences’ reactions to the film helped her realize that other people have grown up with similar experiences.
“It all kind of happened as I was trying to find myself, trying to find what I like to do and what I want to do for my life and in my future,” Librado-Sanchez said. “This film of our life has touched so many people, it moves me to want to continue to talk about my experiences and stuff like that so they know they’re not alone.”
Her sister, Esmirna Librado, 22, said that she, too, grew from the experience and felt more empowered about her future.
“I knew there was this whole other part of me that I didn’t know,” Librado said. “It made me better understand them as parents and made me grateful that I was raised the way I was.”
She hopes that people who see the film will appreciate the challenges that farmworkers face, particularly those who immigrate from Indigenous communities and experience higher levels of discrimination.
“We’re all the same,” Librado said. “We all go through different struggles, but at the end of the day we’re all human, and we all should be treated with respect.”