Underwater Dreams is the story of four undocumented students who shocked the engineering world in a 2004 sophisticated robotics competition sponsored by NASA and the Office of Naval Research. They were the rag-tag high school team that went up against the college students from MIT, pitting a robot made of Home Depot parts against custom built machines from the most elite engineering programs in the nation. And they won.
During the broadcast of Underwater Dreams on msnbc, Voto Latino’s, Maria Teresa Kumar, the film’s director, Mary Mazzio, team coach Fredi Lajvardi, and founder of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, Dulce Matuz participated in a live Twitter chat to share special behind the scenes details and insights into the continuing struggle for undocumented youth in America today.
Earlier this week, Mary Mazzio answered YOUR questions about the film:
Alicia Maule: Hi Mary, how did you come across this story, and what do you think about the timing of the movie’s release during this highly publicized moment of the “immigration crisis”?
Mary: Alicia - thank you for your question. Many years ago, a teacher sent me the story of what these boys had accomplished - and I thought it was an epic David and Goliath story. I then saw a NIGHTLINE piece and CNN piece, but no film. I called the teachers to see if a documentary film might be possible, only to discover that they had just signed a deal with Warner Brothers. Every year after that, I would call to check in. No feature film was ever made. Finally, 6 or 7 years later, I called and the Warner Brother rights had expired. And I was able to dive into this project with the boys and their teachers.
As for the timing of this documentary, we have seen groups from both the right and the left come together around the film to dialogue, which is incredibly exciting. One of our goals to was help shift perception about who might be capability and valuable to society (irrespective of their zipcode or heritage) - as a starting point for discussion. The film sits at the intersection of education, innovation, engineering, and opportunity in America - and we hoped that the film could humanize the stories behind the two million Dreamer students in this country, so many of whom have the ability and work ethic and talent to propel us forward as nation, but can not because of their documentation status. That all being said, we had no idea that the release would coincide with the humanitarian crisis at the border and the intensified focus on the immigration debate.
Alicia Wright-Philpott: All this is good. And I am so happy for them. But my concern is this. Why didn’t they apply for their citizenship? They can do all this and reap the benefits of being in the USA but yet do what is required to become a full citizen of the USA.
Mary: Alicia - thank you for your question. You are the second Alicia to have a thoughtful comment! The students in the film were brought to this country by their parents, as babies. They have lived here as American students and have been educated in American schools. Many of them were unaware they were not properly documented until their late teens, when they sought drivers licenses or attempted to enroll in ROTC or even locked into college education. For these young people, before DACA (the executive order under which many Dreamers are now “documented” for a limited time), there was simply no path towards citizenship. The only option was, as one of the students in the film did, to “deport” oneself and then apply for amnesty or a visa, a long and daunting process, which also included the possibility of a 10 year ban from entering the United States. The real question is this: if we have young people who have been educated and equipped with a valuable American education (whether they are a foreign student or an undocumented student), and if they have the ability and talent to contribute to our economy (and given that American companies are in desperate need of skilled workers in science, mathematics, and technology), shouldn’t any barriers to their success be removed? It is un-American to throw away valuable talent. And shortsighted.