Photographer and filmmaker Betty Bastidas is a natural-born story teller. The Ecuadorian-born documentarian came to the United States as a child, and soon found that her trusty camera was the perfect lens through which to understand her new surroundings! These days, Betty is using her camera to help others understand the American Latino experience, from the inside out.
Most recently, Betty co-produced and co-directed Can’t Hold Me Back, a documentary short that follows 17-year-old high school student Fernando Parraz on his mission to become the first person in his family to graduate from high school.
Fernando, the son of an ex-gangster, was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan and educated by a failing school system; by all accounts, the odds were stacked against him. However, despite the obstacles he faced, Fernando remained determined to not only become the first person in his family to graduate from high school, but to also become the first to go on to attend college. In an interview with New Latina, Fernando shared, “I need to go to school and better my life. For me, failure isn’t an option.”
The documentary, narrated by Fernando—and at times, filmed through his personal camera lens—provides the nation with a rare look into just one of the many school systems failing students of color today. Though a new report by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 71.4% of Latino students graduated on time from high school in 2010, students in Fernando’s hometown of Detroit (a city where Latino youth between the ages of 0-17 account for 30% of the youth population as of 2010) still face dismal graduation rates, with up to 4 out of 10 students dropping out before graduation.
When asked why it is that he wanted to share his story, Fernando answered, “This story is about me, but I also wanted to reflect my community.” And that he does. Fernando, along with Betty and her crew, shed light directly into the recesses of the still gaping education gap, with this honest, first-hand account.
These days, Fernando attends Wayne State University, where he recently changed his major from engineering to business. Of his future, Fernando shares, ”I really want to be a marketing consultant.” In addition to going into business, Fernando is determined to stay connected to his community. “I just really want to help the community. There are a lot of people who get good jobs and leave. I want to stay in the community.” Fernando also hopes that his continued success serves to provide people in his community with a sense of hope, and show them that, “no matter hard things get—no matter how hard you struggle—there is always a way to overcome any obstacle.”
Betty Bastidas, for her part, is hard at work promoting Can’t Hold Me Back, finishing up post-production on a feature-length documentary film and launching Maracuya Productions with her business partner, Madeleine Bair. You can join Maracuya Productions at their launch event and screening of Can’t Hold Me Back taking place Thursday March 21, 2013 at FreeCandy located in Brooklyn, New York.
Can’t Hold Me Back is part of a PBS Online Film Festival and is eligible to win the People’s Choice Award. Help Betty and Fernando win by casting your vote here: http://www.pbs.org/
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