Philly Rising: Documenting the power of community in 'Expanding Sanctuary'

Antionette Lee
November 14, 2019 - 7:23 am

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — When Kristal Sotomayor began filming her documentary "Expanding Sanctuary" last year, she had no idea that she would be recording history. 

"I started this film with a camera, and that was it," she said. "And I had to borrow the tripod." 

Sotomayor's parents immigrated from Peru, and she observed their struggles. She knew she wanted to do something on the topic of immigration — "because it's a topic that's very important to me in my life," she said. 

She developed a partnership with Juntos, an immigrant rights nonprofit in South Philly. Sotomayor spent several months with Juntos organizers and community members at their meetings. She said eventually everything just "came together" to create the film.

"'Expanding Sanctuary' is a short documentary that follows Juntos ... and their campaign to end the sharing of the police database called PARS with Immigration and Custom Enforcement — ICE."

The grassroots campaign to end cooperation with ICE in Philadelphia began to gain momentum as the national conversation about immigration ignited. Eventually, it would become a success. 

"You kind of see the protagonist take on this larger role of being a community leader. You see the actions that they go through, how they engage with allies, and then eventually how they end up winning the campaign at city hall with Mayor Kenney announcing the contract that they had for over 10 years." 

Last year, Philly officials announced that the city would not renew its PARS agreement with ICE.

Kristal says documentary narratives around Latinx immigration issues often portray a defeated and powerless community, but her film is different because it demonstrates the community’s resilience and power.

"There's also people who are advocating and protesting and putting themselves at risk in order to protect their own communities, and that’s just not seen at all. It's always about the tragedy, the tears," she said. 

"This film is a success story about the community organizing to make this legislative change that will protect their families."

Her team, all women of color, has raised over $10,000 to complete the film. She hopes to finish it by the end of the year, to begin distributing it far and wide.

"We hope people can learn about their liberation and hopefully figure out how to implement it."

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