By Rachel Bell
Gordon College News Service
September 26, 2011
(This story appeared Sept. 29, 2011, in the print and online editions of the Salem News.)
Salem, MA – Born in Santander, Spain, Jesus Nebot came to America in 1996 to expand his acting career. Fifteen years later, the 47-year-old has acted, written and directed on a variety of projects, and now is using his success in the entertainment industry to raise awareness about issues such as immigration. “I am committed to films that have something to say, to socially relevant films,” he said.
On Thursday, September 29th, Nebot will visit Salem State University (SSU) to present his 2001 film, “No Turning Back.” Inspired by actual events, the film’s story follows a Honduran man who enters the U.S. illegally and goes on the run. The film—which Nebot wrote, directed and stars in—will begin at 6 p.m. in Veterans Hall at the SSU Ellison Campus Center and will be followed by a short lecture and a question and answer session with the audience.
Last year the Hispanic American Society at Salem State organized an immigration lecture during National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15th to October 15th. This year the group decided to do something different and contacted Nebot.
“I thought this would be a more interesting way to introduce dialogue about immigration,” said Rebecca Jimenez, 34, the associate director of the Campus Center at Salem State.
Observation of National Hispanic Heritage Month first became public law on August 17th, 1988, under President Ronald Reagan as a tribute “to the generations of Hispanic Americans who have positively influenced and enriched our nation and society,” according to the Library of Congress’ website, hispanicheritagemonth.gov.
In support of this month, Nebot is currently on tour visiting colleges and universities in twelve different states, screening his film and sharing what he calls “a humanitarian perspective” on immigration. Nebot is also hoping to generate interest and raise awareness among university students. “We need greater understanding of all points of view,” he said.
Immigrants are underrepresented at the university especially in light of the local population demographic, according to Avi Chomsky, 54, professor of history at SSU and coordinator of its Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies program. “About 35 percent of the city of Salem speaks Spanish as their primary language,” she said. “And there’s a huge Latino population in the high schools who aren’t coming to Salem State.”
Of the approximately 6,000 students at SSU, 20 percent are “self-reported students of color.” In 2010 the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 9.6 percent of the Massachusetts population is of Hispanic or Latino origin. “For a lot of students, probably their parents are immigrants working here so it’s hard,” said Brenes, 22, student president of the Hispanic American Society at the Salem campus.
According to Chomsky, non-native English speakers face many obstacles in their education, starting with living in poorer school districts and being taught by English tutors who are not necessarily qualified. The obstacles increase as they enter college. “Undocumented students by Massachusetts law have to pay out-of-state tuition,” Chomsky said. “The environment here (in this area) is not very open and I think many of them live underground.”
The filmmaker Nebot who, as a teenager worked as an undocumented worker in France, has a similar view. “We approach immigration from a very narrow perspective, thinking only legal or illegal,” he said. “But we are all procreators of the issues behind immigration.”
If You Go: “No Turning Back,” Thursday, September 29 at 6 p.m. Veterans Hall at the SSU Ellison Campus Center, 352 Lafayette Street, Salem, MA.