A Desperate Mother Makes A Heartbreaking Decision In ‘Paper Boats’ To Spare Her Children From Immigration Policy Realities
While the country is rightly outraged at the current administration’s family separation policies that place children in concentration camps, “Paper Boats” offers the alternative storyline. Directed by Yago Muñoz, “Paper Boats” is a story about three young siblings who grew up in New York City, forced to move to México with their grumpy abuelo to avoid being placed in the foster system as their mother, Alma, faces deportation. Carolina, José, and Tomás, learn to navigate going from the city jungle of New York to the middle of nowhere desert in México with their abuelo who doesn’t understand English.
The first scenes of the trailer are as idyllic as it gets.
The cityscape of New York at night lingers as we hear a young girl’s whisper, “Let’s go wake up mommy.” Three children, one in a princess costume, rush to wake up their young mother, Alba, by trampling all over her in bed. Laughter. She chases after them as they run to the park for ice cream. Then, we hear Alba’s voice, “Will I get deported?”
The first scenes feel familial–a Latino family comfortable in their New York City lives.
“Paper Boats” seems to scream the possibility of familial feeling in highly contrasted situations. Alba stands staring at a subway as it zooms past her, as industrious as New York is known to be. We hear Alba bargain with her lawyer, “But I didn’t do anything wrong.” He tells her, “Alba, you crossed the border illegally ten years ago. It’s time to think of your children.” She needs to find a guardian that she trusts to care for the children, because the government can legally take away her children, American citizens, given that she committed the crime of crossing the border.
In seeming total contrast with Alba and the New York subway system is Alba’s father, Jorge, staring out over the vast Mexican desert.
Jorge and Alba’s relationship is strained over border policies. She crossed to give her kids a better life, but it meant that she couldn’t return to México for her own mother’s funeral. Jorge still doesn’t understand why she left, and why she didn’t come back. Jorge’s grown comfortable with his isolated ranchero lifestyle, fishing by trade, and enjoying the solitude of the desert by night.
Suddenly, Jorge must care for his three grandchildren, whom he’s never met, and he’s grisly about it.
He doesn’t seem to take the responsibilities too seriously and even arrives at the airport late. These darkened silhouettes of strangers meeting for the first time invariably illuminates as the familial bonds are formed. It takes a while though.
“No te entiendo!” he shouts at los niños their first night with him.
The kids try to explain that they don’t eat fish and that the youngest has dietary restrictions. The three jóvenes and their abuelo end up staring blankly at each other–one side not understanding why they won’t eat, and the other not understanding why they aren’t being fed.
At first, the viewer is concerned that Jorge just tosses three young kids in the back of a pickup truck, but then it becomes delightful.
We watch the children’s lives with a protective mother in the streets of New York transform into campo kids, wearing cowboy hats and even peeing out the back of a pickup truck. Imagine any of our mothers letting us do that. No puedo.
A new understanding of family is born, and we enjoy it fleetingly.
As the novelty of the desert and their upended lives weans, the children miss their mother. The adult audience understands that the immigration system is complicated, winding, and unjust, but “Paper Boats” is telling the story through the lens of a child. There’s no anger at the system, or even the sound of Trump narrating in the background, “When Mexico sends their people, they’re not you, or you.” There’s just grief.
The brave children pack their bags and wander into the desert, following the railroad to find their mother.
The trailer trails off as we see Jorge go after the children the next morning. But, like paper boats, the journey home is often undertaken by the current of the journey itself.