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GOSHEN -- "Fuerza" means "force" in Spanish, and it's the title of four Goshen College students' upcoming video documentary that examines the forces behind Mexican immigration.
Production team members, senior Katrina Dyck of Thomasboro, Ill., sophomore David Martinez of Goshen, freshman Ben Noll of Lancaster, Pa., and sophomore James Weber of Reading, Pa., entered a documentary proposal in a contest last winter and won $5,000 to help them produce a film.
The contest was open to students from Goshen College, Manchester College and Earlham College to encourage them to study a social-justice issue.
"We saw the posters up on campus and we knew each other from class," said Martinez, a 2004 graduate of NorthWood High School. "We didn't have a topic but we knew we wanted to enter."
After several meetings and discussions, the group decided to explore immigration because of its broad scope and relevance to Elkhart County.
"I really wanted to do a documentary on immigration because it seemed relevant and it's something that needs to be heard," said Martinez, who moved to the U.S. from Mexico at age 11. "We're passionate about doing a documentary in the Elkhart area."
To research the documentary, the team will interview area immigrant families -- in the U.S. both legally and illegally -- and government officials. Martinez said the film will focus on immigrants' stories of jobs, education and problems with the immigration system. He noted that when the group wrote its proposal last winter, immigration was just reaching the forefront of national politics, and recent rallies and debates will enrich the documentary's message.
"There seem to be many issues of injustice in the area, including worker exploitation," said Weber. "I've never spent six months of my life poring over any one subject, completely interested and completely concerned."
To make its feature-length documentary, the team has access to equipment at Goshen College and help from professors. In August, the team will use the $5,000 prize to travel to Brownsville, Texas, a border city, and to Mexico, where they will visit the hometowns of many of Elkhart's Mexican immigrants to study living conditions and learn why so many people are leaving.
"What's fun about this team is that they're multiethnic and they're looking at the question from different perspectives," said Ron Johnson, a communications professor at Goshen College who organized the contest and now advises the Goshen team. "It's fun to watch them grow as journalists and storytellers."
The competition was overseen by Goshen College's Peace and Justice Journalism Program, which encourages students to devote media attention to social justice issues around the world. The program began two years ago, inspired by a team of professors and students who studied and reported on fair-trade coffee in El Salvador. Its premise is that news reporting should focus on moral and political issues rather than watered-down "infotainment."
"We're trying to spark student creativity," said Johnson. "The ideas come not from the faculty but from the students."
Johnson said two groups submitted written proposals and three-minute video clips. Judges from WNIT-TV and Peace House in Indianapolis chose the Goshen team's proposal. Plowshares, a group committed to peace studies, sponsored the contest.
"By the time we were announced as the winner of the contest, we were so excited about (the film) that we probably would have tried to do the documentary anyway," said Weber.
Contact Adrienne Ruffner at email@example.com.