Thursday, December 2, 2021

MSU professors create documentary honoring deported veterans

November 11, 2021
<p>The Valenzuela Brothers, Manuel (left) and Valente (right) pose for a picture. The two brothers are the subject of the documentary &quot;American Exile&quot; which was directed, produced and edited by two MSU professors. Photo courtesy of Burning Box Studio Inc. </p>

The Valenzuela Brothers, Manuel (left) and Valente (right) pose for a picture. The two brothers are the subject of the documentary "American Exile" which was directed, produced and edited by two MSU professors. Photo courtesy of Burning Box Studio Inc.

As a part of Michigan State University’s celebration of Veterans’ Day, MSU and WKAR will hold a preview of the documentary “American Exile.”

The hour-long film was made by two MSU professors and with contributions from students. Following the preview, a panel will take place with two of the subjects of the documentary and the two professors. 

Professor John Valadez is the director and producer of the documentary and Carleen Hsu is the editor and producer. Their documentary was made with help from many colleges and programs across the university and was co-produced by WKAR Television, MSU’s NPR and PBS station.

The documentary follows the journey of two brothers, Valente and Manuel Valenzuela, who volunteered to fight in the Vietnam War, only to have 50 years pass and to be told that they are to leave the country because of a run-in with the law decades earlier.

Ultimately, the state of Colorado claimed that Manuel, the younger brother, is a citizen, despite the federal government believing he is not. Valente, the older brother, on the other hand, self-deports to Mexico. 

Valadez first heard the story from Manuel when Manuel approached him at a screening of his documentaries. Hsu said that after hearing the Valenzuelas’ story, Valadez called her immediately afterward. 

“(Valadez) met him, and found it completely baffling," Hsu said. "And then he calls me immediately and was like ‘Uh so I met this guy. I don’t know if they’re legit.' ... I said ‘If this is true, this is a great story.’”

The purpose of the documentary Hsu said is to highlight the issue of veteran deportation. She said that a majority of Americans are unaware of the issue and do not realize how race plays a critical role in deciding who does and does not stay, as the majority of the veterans who are deported are Latinx, African or Asian. 

“What does it say about us when we turn our backs on (veterans)?” Hsu said. “We take pride in our military and yet at the same time, the government is okay with turning them away. So I think that’s very important. And I hope people start to think about what role does race play in something like this? And what does it mean to be an American?”

While Nov. 11 is a preview, the documentary will premiere next Tuesday, Nov. 16 on PBS, WKAR, pbs.org and the PBS Video app nationwide. Hsu said she wants the documentary to reach people who have never been in the positions that some of the subjects have been. 

“People who aren’t immigrants," Hsu said. "People who aren’t people of color. People who are in positions of power. I hope they see this because it’s a very emotional film. And so it’s not only about issues, it’s about how it impacts families, how it impacts individuals. I would love those people to see it. Just because I think they need to understand.”

The federal government’s policy of deporting veterans was reversed on July 2, when the Biden administration announced it was forming a way for deported veterans to return to the country through the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Veterans Affairs.  

The preview of the documentary will take place at 7 p.m. in the Communication Arts and Sciences Building in Studio A of WKAR TV.

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