Synopsis: Ah Wei, a young woman from rural China, decides to cross the U.S.-Mexico border through the underground tunnel to reunite with her husband in the United States. She soon realizes the journey is not about the crossing, but about mending the discrepancies between expectations and reality once she gets there.
Where Dreams Rest is a poetic yet realistic story about immigration, but more importantly, the story I want to tell is also a coming-of-age story. I know first-hand what it is like to leave a hometown, to experience the cost of immigrating, and dealing with the continual struggles to make sense of one’s identity while assimilating to this country. But in spite of the cost, I always believe that as human beings, we have strengths that are beyond ourselves.
WHY THE STORY:
From mainstream media, it is well-known that thousands from Central and Latin America attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexican border every day. But as a Chinese immigrant myself, I was shocked to learn of the complex stories behind Chinese migrants who endure this dangerous journey. By paying large sums of money to Snakeheads (smugglers), they make their way through China to enter the U.S. through the Mexican border.
Through a personal contact, I learned of a Chinese migrant who survived this very crossing by lying fully immersed in a water tank, with only a straw to breathe through. Luckily, she made it, but many in the same journey did not. That story, her journey, lingered with me.
I couldn’t help but wonder isn’t the Chinese economy booming? Aren’t there other methods to come to the U.S.? Why would someone risk his/her life just to come to the U.S.? What happens if they get caught? How can they continue to stay in America?
With more research, I found that the majority of those who take this daring route are from a particular region in China called Fuzhou. When traveling there this past summer, I was able to conduct more research and interview the people there. Filled with nearly vacant villages, Fuzhou is curiously fabricated with Westernized homes. Those that I encountered shared stories of family members who had left for America ten to twenty years ago, but are unable to come back. They send money back to care for their families and build homes but, they themselves are unable to travel back due to their complicated/undocumented status in the U.S.
Under the current political climate, it will only be more difficult for those who want to go to the U.S. for a better life. While many immigrants are becoming more open about their status and struggles, the undocumented Chinese tend to be quieter and are often disregarded. It is my hope to raise awareness to the plight of Chinese migrants through this film.
As a first generation immigrant who came to the US from Hong Kong at the age of 14, I quickly got a taste of the cost of moving: In my first year, I received the news of my grandfather’s passing through a phone-call; I had to write letters to my 7 year old sister to keep in contact; I tried to achieve the “American Dream” by studying hard, but with the cultural and language barriers, I constantly battled with self-doubt and disillusionment in my adolescent years.
Even now, I struggle being bilingual and a filmmaker because of the different sensibilities between the East and the West. The struggle fully manifests as I try to pursue this final Thesis project at USC. Throughout my time there, I was taught valuable techniques and crafts of filmmaking, but constantly feel that my sensibilities are not being nurtured. The school teaches a Hollywood screenwriting/filmmaking style which I fully admire, yet I often feel disconnected. Even as I work on the script of Where Dreams Rest, I had problems finding my voice because I was trying so hard to cater to the “Hollywood” style and was used to hiding my true self in order to assimilate. So, last semester, when I serendipitously took a leave of absence, I was able to do some soul-searching and that is when this final draft of Where Dreams Rest finally came into being. I finally found my voice! A voice that often gets drowned in the U.S.
“Physically I reside oversea, but spiritually I am with my hometown.” It has not been an easy journey for me, both as an immigrant and as a filmmaker. Filmmaking is about collaborating, and that means I had to learn to humble myself and ask others for help. I am so thankful that there is a very talented team of people that supports me on this journey, but we need your help as well.