Spoiler alert: Do yourself a favor and watch La Santa Cecilia’s new video before you read any further.
Done wiping that tear from your eye now? All right. We’re good to go.
When the band La Santa Cecilia and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network approached filmmaker Alex Rivera to create a new music video a few months ago, he jumped at the chance. “El Hielo” translates to “The Ice” in English—and references the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, also known as ICE, and its actions that split families apart.
Rivera, whose brilliant sci-fi 2008 film Sleep Dealer imagines a future United States that relies on migrant labor without the migrants, says that he’s always been aware of the potential and promise of creating documentaries—but that documentary work inevitably creates a power dynamic, since subjects are being examined by a filmmaker from a distance. “But working collaboratively and collectively with a group of people to tell a story can change those dynamics a bit,” explains Rivera.
Aside from featuring people who live through the horrors of an immigration system that pivots on instilling fear, Rivera also took the unusual step of choosing to humanize an ICE agent in the video. “ICE agents are not phantoms—they’re making decisions, and they’re complicit in a violent system,” says Rivera. He wants to challenge the viewer to accept that some people who work to support their families make a living by splitting other families apart. “It’s provocative to highlight their humanity,” adds Rivera. “It tears apart at the heart in a way that demonization and characterization never can.”
If you’re a frequent reader here, you might already be familiar with the stories behind some of the actors featured in the video. Isaac Barrera, who surprises us when we learn he plays ICE agent, worked with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, and was the first person to infiltrate an ICE detention center in order to organize from the inside in 2011. He now works with the Los Angeles Immigrant Youth Coalition, which organizes undocumented immigrants, and works to put an end to deportations. Erika Andiola, who plays the restaurant worker caught in the raid, is a well-known immigration activist from Arizona. Her mother in real life, Maria Arreola, was nearly deported less than three months ago. In the music video, Arreola herself is left behind, breaking down as she watches a raid on television.