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.”