Bell Gardens Students’ Struggles Captured in Film

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

Tears, laughter and applause filled the Bell Gardens High School auditorium Monday night during the screening of the documentary “Boys in Peril,” which followed three Bell Gardens students and their struggle to get into college.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Cineasta Capta la Lucha de Estudiantes de Bell Gardens

Abel Aguilar, Julio Perez and Edgar Rodriguez were filmed in the 2011-2012 school year during their senior year at Bell Gardens High School. The film, produced and directed by Graham Streeter, depicted some of the obstacles that young Latino men face on their journey to get into college, highlighting the alarming statistic that only one in ten Latino men graduate from college.

(Left to right): Abel Aguilar, Edgar Rodriguez, Filmmaker Graham Streeter and Julio Perez reunite after watching the documentary that followed the Bell Gardens High School alumni’s struggles during their senior year. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Streeter told EGP that he chose to take on this project to try to get some answers as to why the number is so low. Each boy dealt with a different issue, which Streeter said can help people  understand the many challenges young Latino men face.

“I came in looking for an answer and the answer lies within the three of them, but it’s not clear-cut and dry or something you could prepare for,” he said.

He looked for first-generation college students and chose Bell Gardens due to its demographics, which are predominantly Hispanic. Originally, Streeter only planned on following one student, but the compelling stories of the three young men moved him to film all three during their senior year of high school.

All three students were part of the AVID program, a college readiness elective dedicated to preparing students for higher education. Each faced situations that are common to many students in Bell Gardens and communities with similar populations.

For Aguilar, his challenges were rooted in the environment and influences that surrounded him growing up with a single mom. As an undocumented student, Perez faced the challenge of wanting a higher education but not having many financial resources available to him. And as the oldest child in his family, Rodriguez was forced to take on the responsibilities that come with being the “man of the house” when his father abandoned the family.

While Perez was accepted into several universities, a lack of financial support ultimately forced him to attend community college instead. Perez’ frustration over his reality was vivdly depicted in the film. On Monday, however, he told EGP has no regrets about allowing his challenges as an undocumented student to be filmed.

“At first I felt I was dragged into [doing the documentary],” Perez told EGP. “But then I saw the importance of it, I realized that people were going to benefit from it and I could reach out to people who are in my situation.”

The three young men saw the movie for the first time at Monday’s screening. Following the showing, they reunited on stage to take questions and comments from the audience, made up of students, faculty, MUSD board members and city officials. They each gave an update on their current situation.

(Left): Abel Aguilar, Julio Perez and Edgar Rodriguez reunited after watching the documentary that followed them during their senior year. They answered questions from the audience. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Bell Gardens Vice Mayor Sergio A. Infanzon had a cameo spot in the film during which he talked about the issues that undocumented students face. Following the screening he told Perez that the city’s youth group initiative had raised money to help fund part of his tuition.

“It’s an opportunity for us to tell the story of every single student who lives in the city of Bell Gardens,” Infanzon told EGP about the importance of sharing the film. “To a certain extent, the story of these individuals is an accurate portrayal of many of the people who live in the city.”

Rodriguez, who is now attending UC Santa Barbara, told EGP he was happy with the end product and his depiction in the film.

“I wanted to put it out there because I know I’m not the only one struggling with the same situation,” Rodriguez told EGP about his role in his family. “Its not only one struggle, there is a variety of struggles that lead to that big problem” that prevents many young Latino men from pursuing a higher education.

Sonia Valencia, like many in the audience, said she was moved by the film.

Several people took advantage of the opportunity to congratulate the three young men for their accomplishments and to offer them their support.

“I was able to see that people cared for me and how much support I have,” Perez told EGP following the event. “I only wish I could return that to people that are also in my situation.”

Monday’s screening was the fourth and final screening at Bell Gardens High School. Streeter told the audience that for the next year, the film would be screened for free at schools across the country and in foreign countries. At the end of the yearlong screening tour, Streeter plans to put the film online in the iTunes Store, which would allow the general public to purchase and download the film.

“I hope they will understand the Latino struggle to become college bound,” said Streeter.

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December 20, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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