Border Voices: Ebony
Port of Entry / December 22, 2020
Ebony Bailey is a filmmaker currently based in Mexico City. As an American with Mexican and African roots, she identifies as “Blaxican.” And she’s drawn to telling stories like her own — stories about the mixing of cultures and the beauty that comes from it. Ebony made a film about Black migrants in Tijuana, and we talk to her about that and more in this “Border Voices” bonus episode. Our “Border Voices” series features shorter episodes spotlighting people who identify as transborder, fronterizx or simply have a story to tell about their relationship with the U.S.-Mexico border.
Watch Ebony’s films at https://www.ebonybailey.com/
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Border Voices 2: Ebony
In these “Border Voices” bonus episodes, we feature shorter stories spotlighting people who identify as transborder, fronterizx or simply have something special to say about their relationship with the U.S.-Mexico border.Hey, I’m Alan Lilenthal and you’re listening to “Port of Entry,” where we tell cross-border stories that connect us.
And this is another one of our “Border Voices” bonus episodes.
These are shorter stories spotlighting people who identify as transborder, fronterizo or simply have something to say about their relationship with the U.S.-Mexico border. We’ll be back with a new season soon.
Alright...so... meet Ebony…
Black Lives Matter Ebony Clip 29
I know that a lot of things in this world are really messed up, but like, in my core, I know like I'm an idealist and I have faith in people.
Like me...she’s an eternal optimist...and Ebony Bailey’s unrelenting faith in people is part of what drives her to do what she does.
She’s a filmmaker who makes these really beautiful documentaries about how different cultures mix and the beauty that comes from it.
And yeah... 2020 has been rough for her..probably you...me... and lots of people.
But Ebony says she can’t help but see some of the good in the bad.
Black Lives Matter Ebony Clip 29
we can make the world a better place, which sounds like kind of cheesy, but I really think that it really can be possible. And I just see like instances of that, even with like the protest and the uprisings, or just how people have treated each other people are considering their neighbors more during the pandemic and things like that. So those things like really do give me like spin Anta or like, esperanza, or like, optimism.
Right now, Ebony lives in Mexico City. She just completed graduate school for film.
And she says in Mexico, sometimes her black skin brings unwanted attention.
Most people assume she’s either a tourist or one of the thousands of Black migrants passing through the country in recent years on the way to cross into the U.S.
Black Lives Matter Ebony Clip 13
…..I have had some aggressive experiences too, especially with migration. Um, a specific experience I had, was in Tijuana when I, when I was traveling from Mexico city in the airport to Tijuana….
Black Lives Matter Ebony Clip 13
…...Every time I take this national flight, there is always someone there's always. Someone there who stops me and asked me for my passport. And it always happens. They never ask anybody else for their passport. They always stop me. And usually it's just like, Oh, can I see your passport? Okay. Yeah, bye. And I always know why they stopped me, but the last, I think it was the last time that I went to Tijuana. Um, I remember like getting past the point where they usually stop me and, and thinking like, wow, they didn't stop me this time. Um, and I was like, almost out the door. And then he like whistled at me and called me back. And I was like, no, Oh, I didn't make it through this time. I thought I was. But, um, he called me back and then he asked me if I was from Haiti or he said, are you coming from Haiti? And I said, uh, no, I came from Mexico city and he's like, where are you from? ……
“Where are you from?”
It’s actually a question Ebony gets a lot.
Black Lives Matter Ebony Clip 12
….Sometimes the question bothers me, but it's also like, I kind of get it, but for a lot of Afro Mexicans, it's a question that really bothers them because they're born and raised here. And so to be constantly like pegged as a foreigner, it's like something that just gets really annoying because it's a constant. If it happens like once in a while, it's okay. But when it's a constant, it's like, Ooh, otro vez?? Eh.
Ebony isn’t afromexicana. She didn’t grow up in Mexico and she’s not sure if it’s her forever home yet.
Black Lives Matter Ebony Clip 2 Not Afro Mexicana
Sometimes people will call me afroMexican. And I don't mind if they call me that, but also like it's not my context. My context is different and I don't want to take up space or I don't want to take up like a narrative, um, that I grew up in that context…..
Instead...ebony’s “context” is the U.S…..She grew up here.
Her mom is Mexican and her dad is black...so she identifies like this...
Black Lives Matter Ebony Clip 1 Blaxican
We're black and we're Mexican. Oh, so we're blaxican…..
Ebony grew up mostly in a predominantly Mexican town in central California.
And she says kids in her school made it hard for her to feel like she ever fully fit in.
Black Lives Matter Ebony Clip 9 Different
They made me feel very different. They would like make fun of me in Spanish thinking that I wouldn't understand what they were saying…..
But she did understand. She speaks perfect Spanish and feels just as Mexican as she does African American ..but the other kids just weren’t able to see her Latina side.
And now that Ebony is living in Mexico City, she’s again coming across that same kind of “othering” she felt growing up in rural California.
Black Lives Matter Ebony Clip 10 Used to Being Different
I'm so used to like being different. So like in Mexico, I'm also, I'm also like more visible because there aren't that. Well, as they say, no aye negros in mexico..they say that...it's not true, but they say that, but there aren't as many black people in Mexico either. And on one hand, it is like jarring. When people like point, try to ask me to touch my hair or anything like that, that, um, but on the other hand, it's like, I'm so used to it because I've always been used to being like different and being like the only black person here.
It’s time for a quick break.
When we come back...how Ebony uses her own life experiences to guide her filmmaking.
Ebony is drawn to stories like her own.
Black Lives Matter Ebony Clip 3 Cross Cultural Stories
I like telling stories on like intercultural cross-cultural type things.
A few years ago, while studying in Mexico City….she stumbled on just the kind of cross-cultural story she loves.
Black Lives Matter Ebony Clip 4 Her Film
I was reading La Horna, which is like one of the national newspapers in Mexico. And I saw, I saw photos of migrants at the border and all of the migrants were black. And I was like, really curious. It was like, Oh, there's more black people here in Mexico. Um, cause at the time I didn't have any of my friends or anything. Like I wasn't really, um, this was like my first few months in Mexico, so I hadn't met like the Afro community here yet, but, um, From there. I got more interested in the, in the topic and I decided to do my final project on black migrants in Mexico
Ebony’s film about Haitain and other black migrants in Tijuana is called “Life Between Borders.”
Ebony Film Clip 3:42
Really, it’s a miracle, no? For them to have reached the northern border.
The documentary introduces black migrants.
It explains the economic….political...and environmental turmoil they fled…
And how they ended up at the border.
Ebony film clip 1:18
Wilner Metelus (President of Committee in Defense of the Naturalized and Afromexicans):It’s a new migration really. It’s a new phenomenon that Mexico is living. With Donald Trump‘s arrival to power, right now it’s very hard for them. And also have the decision that was made by Obama on September 22, 2016. He suspended the humanitarian visa. Because of this Haitians are now stranded at the border.
Ebony saw some of her own struggle for identity in the Black migrants she met while making her film.
She stayed in touch with some of them, and has felt super connected to Tijuana ever since.
Black Lives Matter Ebony Clip 5 Tijuana is Home
….I feel like Tijuana is one of my homes…..
Black Lives Matter Ebony Clip 27
One time. One of my friends did the, did one of these, um, these memes where it's like, uh, put a right on my comments and I'll tell you which city you are. So I wrote on the comment and my friend told me, Oh, you're Tijuana because you're like in between, like, not only are you like in between black, Mexican, but you're also in between Mexican American. And, uh, I, that's how I feel when I'm in Tijuana. Like, I feel like I identify a lot with it because it's like such like an in-between city. Like a lot of people in Tijuana speak, also speak fluent English and things like that. Um, and it just feels so fronteriza,....
BLACK LIVES MATTERS SAN DIEGO CLIP https://www.facebook.com/blmsd/videos/605875363612150/
Back in May, when the Black Lives Matters protest started rolling across the U.S. in response to the murder of George Flloyd, Ebony felt like she should be there...on the streets with her fellow Black Americans protesting against systemic racism.
Black Lives Matter Ebony Clip 17
….. but then after a few days I started thinking like, well, how can we make a difference here in Mexico? Or how can we, like, bring this back to Mexico, or how can we use this opportunity for Mexico and Mexicans and black people in Mexico to reflect on racism here? So I went to the. The U.S. embassy in Mexico, just to see like, if there was anything going on. and there was a poster there that said Mexico, enfrente tu propio racism...which means Mexico; confront your own racism. So I thought that that was like a really powerful statement. when all of this stuff was happening, like a lot of people in my school were saying like, Oh yeah, racism is like such a problem in the U S and everything about the U S and then I remember like a lot of my friends saying like, yeah, they're making, they're saying racism is such an issue in the U S but, but they're not even looking at racism in their backyard. Like there's also racism in Mexico, too.
Ebony started thinking about the Black migrants she met while making her film in Tijuana… and she thought about a Haitain migrant who died in police custody earlier in the year in the city….and how completely eerie it was that he had called out “no puedo respirar.”..or, I can't breathe….the same exact thing George Flloyd said months later, right before he died…
So Ebony reached out to some friends she had made while making her film…
Specifically...she called Paulina Olvera Canez, who runs Espacio Migrante, a migrant shelter and nonprofit in Tijuana that serves lots of Haitians and other Black migrants.
This is the same Paulina featured in our last “Border Voices” episode.
Ebony asked Paulina what she could do from afar to help organize Tijuana’s first-ever Black Lives Matter protest.
BLM Protest in Tijuana
Black Lives Matter Ebony Clip 30
There's this like narrative of, you know, there's no racism in Mexico because we're all mixed. And I think that like denial, there's a lot of denial of racism here. Um, and denial of racism is racism. So I think that that's going to be. Kind of, I guess that's like a disadvantage in the sense, in comparison to the U S because I feel like there isn't as much denial. I feel like everybody, I think everybody in the world knows that there's racism in the U S um, so, uh, whereas in Mexico, yeah, yeah, pretty much. Um, and in Mexico, I think that people are going to have to just be aware that it exists before they can start, or we can start like chipping away at the systems and, you know, dismantling it.
Jamaica Y Tamarindo Clip
Ebony’s most recent film is called “Jamaica y Tamarindo..”
Jamaica Y Tamarindo Clip
In the film, she focuses on the hibiscus flower and tamarind fruit... two iconic ingredients found in drinks and sweets all across Mexico.
She explores their history, showing how jamaica and tamarind are actually contributions from the country’s AfroMexicano population.
Jamaica Y Tamarindo Clip
Ebony’s inner optimist hopes her films are making an impact..helping identify and give a voice to Black people who live in Mexico….
Black Lives Matter Ebony Clip 15
this whole notion that there aren't black people in Mexico can lead to like really. Dangerous consequences. Like for me and that incident with migration, I got out because of my passport, but I know of people, like what about, what about actual Haitian people or people from ot her countries who won't be able to just like leave and say, give me back my back. That's where I'm going to go. a lot of Afro-Mexicans who fly on a plane and the, and people and authorities don't believe that they're Mexican. They don't believe that they have a Mexican passport. They think it's a fraud. So, which has also happened to me too, where people don't believe that my passport is my passport, but at the end of the day, I know that I have like an extra layer of protection and, and yeah, it just, it makes me want to like, get these stories out more
Black Lives Matter Ebony Clip 16
I met this woman in a screening I did in Fresno. Who's from Guerrero. And she was saying how she had, uh, after my skin who was very dark. I remember she told me she was very, very dark and people would ask her, is she from Africa? And I was like, no, she's Mexican, but I didn't know about Afro Mexicans. I didn't know about ever Mexicans until seeing your film. And now I know about afro Mexicans and if people ask me about my friend, I'm going to say she's Afro Mexican. And I thought that was just really cool. Um, that like, she, she knew now and that she knew how to treat her friend and like how her friend would want to be identified. And I thought that that was really cool too.
You can see some of Ebony’s films at ebony bailey dot com.
And..if you have a border story you’d like to share, we’d love to hear it. Call (619) 452-0228, and leave a quick voicemail telling us who you are, where you live and how the U.S.-Mexico border has changed your life.
I’m your host Alan Lilienthal, and you can find more “Port of Entry” episodes online at port of entry pod dot org. Thanks for listening.
Port of Entry
These are cross-border stories that connect us. Border people often inhabit this in-between place. From KPBS and PRX, “Port of Entry” tells personal stories from this place — stories of love, hope, struggle and survival from border crossers, fronterizxs and other people whose lives are shaped by the wall. Hosted by Alan Lilienthal, produced by Kinsee Morlan and sound design by Emily Jankowski.