Imagine going years without seeing your mother and knowing she’s in a different country taking care of other people’s children. That is the truth for lots of children in the Dominican Republic. Nana, a documentary by Tatiana Fernández Geara, explores the heartbreaking journey Dominican nannies must take so they can send money to their children back home.
The documentary focuses on the Dominican women who work as nannies in the US.
The women are usually hired to be live-in nannies by affluent families the U.S. Some, like Clara, go several years without seeing their own children and end up becoming surrogate parents for the children they nanny.
One of the mothers in Nana says she had no choice but to leave her children behind in search of better opportunity.
“Sometimes you’re eating and you don’t know if your kids have eaten,” says Leidy, one of the nannies featured in the doc. The nannies must rely on their family members back home to care for their children.
Leidy’s two children are back in San Juan, DR where they are being looked after by their grandmother.
Nearly two years after Hurricane Maria reduced the bustling island of Puerto Rico to literal shambles and took 3,000 lives, not much has changed. No major news outlets have followed up with families. It feels as if they think the crisis has been resolved.
Director Nadia Hallgren is giving Americans a look into the ongoing disaster on the island. In the just 37 minutes of “After Maria,” we follow several Puerto Rican women who fled PR for FEMA-assisted housing in the Bronx. We glimpse into their highs–watching 43-year-old Glenda Martes blowing out her birthday candles with a cheerful child shouting, “I wish to have an apartment!” The film covers the eight weeks leading up to when FEMA housing expires, forcing the women and their families to become homeless in the Bronx.
Nadia Hallgren opens up with a glimpse into the lives of the women as they knew it, before Maria.
Hallgren was living in Los Angeles when she first learned that the Bronx would become the hub of the newest influx of migration from Puerto Rico. She knew she had to go back to her home in the Bronx.
Hallgren features three matriarchs who have made a home away from home on the fourth floor in a Norwood hotel.
We meet their children. We see the single room an entire family is crammed into after fleeing the island. It is a stark and powerful look at how much has changed for the people on the island after a devastating natural disaster.
Before Hurricane Maria, they lived in their homes, with family around them.
Hallgren told The Guardian that the families opened up their lives to the documentary because it was so rare that anyone “would care so much about their whole story and their whole lives – who they were before the storm happened and what’s happened after, the investment in the long-term, and the hope that things do get better for them.”
True to its namesake, “After Maria” isn’t about the hurricane itself.
It’s not about its brute strength or the experience of Puerto Ricans as they lived through it. It’s everything that came after that devastated the island.
Governor Ricardo Rosselló told them to prepare for two weeks of no access to food, water, or electricity.
Those two weeks came and went. They were shocked to realize that this would become the new normal in Puerto Rico. One woman lived in a house without a roof for two months before FEMA came by. She said it felt like the rats and snakes started to take over her home.
We see Glenda and Kenia rewatch Trump throwing paper towels in disbelief.
“Trump came to throw paper towels to soak up our tears,” Glenda says through tears. It was just a moment in the long story of how the U.S. has failed Puerto Rico, an island of U.S. citizens.
Then, they move to the Bronx out of desperation.
Living in their ravaged homes in Puerto Rico was akin to living without a roof over their heads. These women all found themselves in The Bronx because FEMA offered hotel vouchers to house victims–allegedly until their homes were rebuilt in Puerto Rico. This never happened.
Kenia’s 11-year-old daughter, Nilda, arguably suffered the worst.
She tells Hallgren that the kids at school make fun of her for speaking Spanish. Hallgren grew up with all her friends in Puerto Rico. She never felt like she didn’t belong.
Her PTSD from the storm becomes so bad, she starts pulling her own hair out.
Throughout the documentary, we see a completely shut-down pre-teen, ignoring the world around her. She eventually goes to see a psychologist, who tells Kenia the obvious: things will only get better for Nilda when she can feel safe and her life is more stable.
As FEMA vouchers come to an end, we see Glenda calling Section 8 housing to no avail.
We see women doing the footwork to regain some stability. “After Maria” shows us in real time how the government failed to treat Maria victims like they’ve treated Harvey and Katrina survivors in the past.
The mistreatment has led them to believe that it’s to an end–to force Puerto Ricans out of the United States.
That just makes Sheila all the more adamant that they can make it here. She reminds her friends that they’ve lived through worse. Not to mention, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens are entitled to the same protections and privileges as all other citizens.
Amidst the relentless anxiety that being displaced with a timeline on your housing causes, there are moments of joy.
Like when Nilda celebrated her 12th birthday just three days before they knew they would have to move out of the hotel. Still, they didn’t know where they were going.
We see the banters of a mami-hija relationship, strained by PTSD.
Nilda and her mother have been living in a hotel room together for the last six months. We see Kenia cooking on boilerplates, asking Nilda to go fetch more ice from the lobby.
As soon as her mom starts to get a little “Dios mio,” Nilda pipes up.
Kenia showers her daughter with the love and affection we’re all too familiar with. We’ve all been at this moment. Most of us haven’t been on the brink of homelessness because our government doesn’t care about us.
We learn that Kenia’s father died in Puerto Rico a month after they arrived in the U.S.
She couldn’t go back to Puerto Rico to say goodbye. Officials told her that he died of natural causes but she thinks it’s because of the lack of food, clean water, and communication available to him.
Kenia and Nilda return to Puerto Rico, months later, to bury Kenia’s father.
We see how Puerto Ricans are experiencing a lack of resources from the U.S. government. The Trump administration has provided fake numbers about the amount of relief that has been sent to Puerto Rico. President Trump even told a rally in Florida that Puerto Rico is getting more aid pitting two communities against each other for necessary aid.
The government offered no permanent housing solutions, as they’ve done with Harvey and Katrina survivors.
There is no happy ending, or neat bow-tie to end this story. That’s the point. It’s ongoing.
Kenia and Nilda just moved into an apartment placing the day before the documentary was released.
Their home was never rebuilt. The filmmaker tells Amny that, “NYC took on these families. They’re here in city shelters. The government really just dropped the ball. The crisis isn’t over for anyone.”
The documentary wrapped a year ago. The sentiment and reality below are still true.
In an interview with Amny, Hallgren shares the complexity of the situation, “The families are still in shelters now. What’s especially difficult for them is the language barrier. They come to New York City and don’t understand the language so part of them trying to find their footing here is even just learning how to speak English as an adult.”
She goes on to say what we all already know, “We all know how hard it is to get housing in NYC even if you earn a living wage. Resources that the city has for people in need is just busting at the seams already. The city is trying to support thousands of residents who are coming from the trauma of living through a natural disaster. They come with emotional baggage that the city is not prepared for.”
Before Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the media obsession of the year, she was an unknown bartender trying to get 10,000 petition signatures to become a candidate for New York’s 14th Congressional District primary race run. AOC was one of many women who answered the call to run after Trump was elected in 2016.
Documentarian Rachel Lears followed four of those progressive women who challenged incumbent Democrats and Republicans for their Congressional seats–creating a New Congress. “Knock Down the House” is the emotional foil to every other depressing political documentary out there. It will inform, inspire and …yes, it will make you cry.
From the opening scenes of AOC getting ready for a political appearance, the undertone is pure feminism.
AOC talks about how simple it is for men to run for office. They have two outfit choices: sleeves rolled up or not? Already, on appearances, it’s more work for women.
Witnessing AOC in the early days, going up against all odds, will make you weep.
CREDIT: @_americaG / Twitter
It feels good being on the other side knowing that all those knocked doors, late nights counting petition signatures, and passing out flyers are worth it for you, AOC. She made it for us.
Many folks thought that her win would lose power for the 14th district.
Incumbent Crowley was already vying to become Speaker of the House, and had so much seniority, Ocasio had to convince folks her win wouldn’t be a loss.
While AOC was the only successful candidate in the documentary, the work isn’t over for the other women.
CREDIT: @AllieGoardHRC / Twitter
Amy Vilela, whose 22-year-old daughter was denied medical care for lack of insurance and died in the hospital, is still speaking out for healthcare for all. Paula Jean Swearengin is running for West Virginia office once again in 2020.
Cori Bush is running for Missouri’s 1st congressional district again in 2020.
Bush is a registered nurse, ordained minister, and mother of two teenagers. Bush was PAC Brand New Congress’s first candidate to support and they’re continuing their support for 2020.
We get to see a young AOC wearing sanitary gloves working her dang job.
No doubt that millions of Americans are happy that AOC stayed in the race. She has used her place in Congress to call attention to the inequality that is hindering the growth of people in this nation.
AOC makes a life lesson out of people underestimating her.
People think of waitressing and bartending as not a ‘real job,’ but AOC makes the point that it’s trained her to be able to stand on her feet 18 hours a day, take heat, and talk to people.
We also get to see AOC dogwalk Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley, the fourth most powerful Democrat in Congress.
Nobody expected AOC to win. Crowley had been elected since 1999 with no contender. For the first time in 14 years, he had a contender and she won.
Crowley underestimated AOC so much, he sent a representative to give his statements at the only town debate.
We got to see stellar footage of AOC shutting it down–dragging Crowley’s vote for the Iraq war, for his position on moving the Israeli embassy to Palestine territory, and for being an absent elected official.
We also got to see AOC passing out flyers with her niece.
Folks were walking by telling her niece that she was next, she’d be a Congresswoman one day. This is one of the most touching moments in the documentary. It is so important to keep the younger generation motivated and this is one of those moments that shows the hope for an inclusive future.
The most iconic moment was this:
AOC trying to energetically take up space before a local news debate with Joe Crowley. May we all seek to take up space like AOC. We are in a time when we need to be purposeful in taking up space and searching out the space we need to be taking up.
Fans want to mandate every young girl to watch this film.
CREDIT: @Poppy_Elizabeth / Twitter
She did the dang thing. She went up against a white guy in power and actually unseated him without taking a single corporate dollar. Her path to Congress is empowering and important for so many young girls and boys of color.
We got some very cute home videos of AOC cuando era niña.
We saw her playing piano in church and seeing her as the only brown girl in her choir. We saw her whole extended family chip in to get them into the burbs.
We got some tender moments reminiscing about AOC’s father, who passed several years ago.
She says that her father knew her soul better than anyone else on this planet. When he passed, while she was in college, it turned her life upside down.
It was this event that forced her to quit her non-profit job and work to pay her student loan debt and avoid foreclosing on their family home.
CREDIT: @EmpireofHerrera / Twitter
We can’t imagine the weight of that stress on top of the stress of campaigning (which by the way, is not a paying job) for her community. However, this story is one that is growing in commonality in our community. Young adults of color having to foot bills and hold down jobs to make sure that their families can stay in their homes. This is why we need more people like AOC fighting for families in Congress.
Five days after she was elected, we see her weeping on the steps of the Capitol.
She tells us the story of how she elbowed her way into her dad’s road trip with the guys. The ended up at the Capitol and he told her that all of this belongs to us.
The documentary will literally rip the tears from your soul.
CREDIT: @gabeajs / Twitter
We watch AOC in disbelief as she learns she won her campaign. No tears. The only tears we get from AOC are her reflecting on her father’s last words to her: “Make me proud.”
“Knock Down the House” might be inspiring the next wave of women to run for office.
CREDIT: @leveecranes / Twitter
There’s no sugarcoating. These are the challenges faced by women who run for office. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
Seeing AOC’s reaction to her win is worth every minute of the emotional journey in “Knock Down the House.”
CREDIT: @voxdotcom / Twitter
Have you seen “Knock Down the House” yet? Comment below with your thoughts!