Two-thirds of all international migrants were living in just 20 countries, with the United States remaining the largest country of destination for international migrants with 51 million migrants and Germany hosting the second-largest number of migrants worldwide (around 16 million), according to the United Nations 2020 International Migration highlights

The migration that takes place in both countries is intertwined in Christina Antonakos-Wallace’s award-winning debut film, FROM HERE, which premiered Thursday, June 1, as part of the 10th season of America ReFramed, the Peabody award-winning documentary series, and is also available to stream for free at WORLD Channel until November 30.

From Here trailer

Trailer for FROM HERE.

Artists & Activists

The documentary film, which is brought to us by WORLD and American Documentary, follows the lives of four artists and activists who are not only fighting to belong in the height of growing nationalism but also within societies of New York and Berlin, that are exceedingly hostile toward their existence. 

The inspiration behind this film came from Antonakos-Wallace’s experience growing up as a Greek-American in Seattle, Washington. Raised as part of the Greek Orthodox Church, which tends to be sexist and homophobic, and exploring her own identity, the filmmaker wondered how culture changes and what people do with their traditions as they’re fighting for progressive change. 

And becoming exposed to immigration in Europe while living in Greece for a few years interested Antonakos in taking a more global approach to the topics of migration and identity, rather than just a U.S.-based project.

PBS/America ReFramed documentary film, FROM HERE, airs June 1. Photo courtesy of Christina Antonakos-Wallace.

National identities

“The idea of these national identities and being aware of how much violence has shaped and is shaped by these narratives of who does and doesn’t belong,” Antonakos-Wallace said. “As that became more and more clear to me, I was really looking for stories of young visionaries who were pushing the boundaries of national identity in the categories that we take for granted in their everyday lives, and whose stories need to be elevated so that we can see into the future, even as we confront the problems that exist right now.”

FROM HERE follows the lives of four migrants, Tania Mattos, Miman Jasarovski, Sonny Singh and Akim Nguyen, between 2007 and 2019. 

Four migrants

Born in La Paz, Bolivia, Tania Mattos and her family fled to New York when she was just four years old. Living without documentation, she worked night shifts in restaurants, and while interning at the New York City Mayor’s Office of Voter Assistance Commission, she found a passion for advocacy. She worked full-time as an unpaid organizer because she realized she and her peers couldn’t wait around for politicians to decide when they were going to recognize the voices of undocumented people; she needed to take action first.

“All that led to my relating to people that are first coming to the U.S., especially the children and the babies and the kids that are coming to the U.S. now,” Mattos said. “I’m in New York City, so I see them in the subway, or I see them at immigration. I see the children, and I think of myself, ‘That could have been me, that totally could have been me;’ It’s something that continues to fuel this passion that grew out of me to really speak out about stories about immigration, particularly my story about immigration.”

We see Jasarovski, a German of Roma descent, living as an outsider in Berlin, the only home he has ever known, as he prepares to welcome his son into the world. Over the past 12 years, he has advocated for and struggled with the discrimination against Roma in Germany. 

Singh, a New Yorker and member of the band, Red Baraat, fights to maintain his own Sikh identity despite the racism and harassment he has had to endure in the city. The musician advocates for his community over the time span we see him, making himself available to young Sikhs who have also faced harassment due to their turbans and becoming more in tune with his religion by traveling to Punjab. 

A refugee from Vietnam, Nguyen has lived in Germany since he arrived, without his parents, as a child. As a passionate artist whose intent is to leave a piece of himself through his creations everywhere he goes, he lives a nomadic life, defiantly stating, “Home is everywhere I am.”

When Antonakos-Wallace first began filming this documentary, she thought production would last a year, maybe two. But with editing the footage in between and wanting to make sure all four stories were told with depth and well-deserved care, the documentary became an over-a-decade-long project. 

“The long story of how our relationship to ourselves gets impacted by this massive displacement of our family and our traditions,” Antonakos-Wallace said, “that long story is what I was interested in, and the complex relationships to ourselves and our society and each other is just not something you can do in an interesting way, quickly.” 

Additionally, developments in the participants’ daily lives and in politics added to the length of the film’s production, such as the creation and passing of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on June 5, 2012. 

DACA and discretion

DACA, according to the American Immigration Council, is “an exercise of prosecutorial discretion, providing temporary relief from deportation (deferred action) and work authorization to certain young undocumented immigrants,” which has allowed 832,881 eligible people to lawfully work, go to school and plan out their lives as they wish without the looming threat of deportation. 

Although immigration in the documentary film takes place in New York and Berlin, the topics of migration and identity also heavily resonate with the Latino community in California, as, in 2021, it was the state with the most immigrants at 10.5 million, according to the Migrant Policy Institute.

“It’s this phenomenon that’s been happening since the beginning of time, which is that people have migrated to seek better,” Mattos said. “Better situations, lands, soil, people, whatever it is, escaping violence, escaping economic warfare. I think that this film, in particular, will speak to the Latino community because a lot of folks know someone who’s undocumented, or a distant relative that is undocumented, it’s millions and millions of people across the country that are currently going through this situation of not being able to formally be recognized by the government.”

Whether someone is undocumented in the U.S. or around the world, adopted, or from a minority religious group, FROM HERE, and the artists and activists featured, is a documentary film that will resonate with anyone watching, personally affected or not, but that’s not all Antonakos-Wallace hopes viewers will take away from the documentary.

“I hope that those people who watch the film, who do have citizenship, realize that it’s our responsibility to take political action, in addition to those people who are most impacted,” Antonakos-Wallace said. “To use our political power to say these issues matter. And we’re not going to allow our neighbors, friends or family members to be demonized and vilified for political gain.”

Read more stories about Representation here.

Serena Sanchez is a freelance writer for CALÓ NEWS. She grew up in San Pedro, Calif., and studied journalism at California State University, Dominguez Hills. Her reporting interests include art, the environment,...