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Amal: Hope comes to the Borderlands!

 February 15, 2024 at 5:09 PM PST

S1: You are listening to Port of Entry.

S2: As you may already know , we just wrapped up a season dedicated to queer stories of the border region. And wait.





S2: Wow , that was really nice. Description. Did you write that ? Nah.

S1: For Julio. Huh ? Anyway , well , we are putting together a new season. Focus on a variety of issues like education , policy , design , architecture , and urbanism.

S2: But before we jump into a new season last November , a global star made her way into our little corner of the world. And we believe her visit is worth a little bonus episode.

S1: Her name is Amal , and well , Amal is a 12 foot tall Syrian girl. Well , a 12 foot tall puppet girl to be exact.

S2: Stay with us to listen to how she's making a difference in the world. From Kpbs , this is Port of Entry.

S1: Where we tell Crossborder stories that connect us. I'm Alan Lilienthal , and I'm Natalie Gonzalez. You are listening to Port of Entry. Amal arrived in San Diego in early November , making her way south from a visit to Los Angeles.

S4: She's a 12 foot tall symbol of the current refugee crisis in many parts of the world. Little Amal , a bigger than life puppet , represents a ten year old Syrian girl forced out of her country. And she's here in San Diego tonight at The Rady Shell.

S2: And that's where we find , after being done with her activities in San Diego , her next stop was Tijuana to start her journey through Mexico all the way down in southern border in Tapachula , Chiapas.

S1: There is actually footage of her crossing through customs into Mexico , through the car lanes at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

S2: I mean , she can't exactly fit through the pedestrian roundabouts. So the Mexican authorities made an exception.

S1: She and her team made their way to Plaza Tijuana , where the border meets the sea.

S2: Our producer Julio was near there , recording for another episode when he saw a crowd of people gathering by the hundreds near the lighthouse next to Friendship Park.

S1: Children , families , press and the curious all gathered around her , following her like ants around an elephant.

S2: And then there she was , a giant girl , big and wide , brown eyes , long brown hair and a half ponytail with a red bow.

S1: Looking around and down to meet everyone's gaze. Ingredients. Watching her step along the way with the team that was leading her through the boardwalk.

S2: Her presence caused many types of reactions , mostly cheers , but some pleaded. She intercede on their behalf to help get rid of the wall of la migra or of border enforcement , elevating her almost to a saint like figure.

S1: She made her way down to the beach , meeting the crowd and children with white pompoms amongst waving white flags , as well as Mexican and Palestinian flags.

S2: Her team helped her walk through the sand and then finally she made contact with a border wall. Her big hands were up feeling the cold steel bars up and down.

S1: She then leaned against the wall , first with her head closing her eyes. The voices of the crowd settled down and all that was heard were the waves crashing into the beach.

S2: Border Patrol agents were on the other side of the wall on dirt bikes a few hundred meters away , both curious and cautious if anything were to take place.

S1: For a moment it looked like she was sad , almost like crying or lamenting on the wall , as if she was feeling the wounds of the family members whose lives have been lost , trying to cross for a better future , or those who are separated by this human construct.

S2: She then turned around , looked at everyone , and then to the sky to see how the seagulls and pigeons flew from one side to the other. She faced the setting sun closed her eyes for a moment , and then she walked toward the crowd to embrace them and capture the moment by taking photos with children and family members.

S1: You are listening to Port of Entry.

S2: The following day , Natalie met with our producer , Julio at Tijuana's cultural center. Like the day before at the beach. The venue was sprawling with the cheers and smiles of school aged children.

S1: Schools had made a curricular event revolving around Amal's visit. Many uniforms from different schools color the esplanade or plaza of the venue. Students would yell her name out to have the giant puppet meet her eyes with theirs. So.

S2: So. Latino. Performances were taking place on a stage elevated at the back of the iconic Imax theater , or , as the locals referred to it for resembling a big ball. Different presentations of Mexican and indigenous folklore songs and dances were exhibited.

S1: Children were playing and having fun , pointing and waving at the puppet. Among them was Leticia Sanchez , an elementary school teacher guiding her class through the event.

S5: La verdad tenemos con ese es el dia. Dos estamos haciendo mal hacer una intentions muy bueno. Ya Tijuana's receptor de nino migrante sobre todo Escuela de nosotros estamos en zona centro.

S1: Entonces me Sanchez works in an elementary school that educates kids from diverse backgrounds in different parts of the world , most of whose families eventually plan to migrate north.

S5: Es una comunidad migrant Ativa y Como sabemos ellos pretende migrar a Estados Unidos , asi tenemos ninos de todas las partes del mundo muy bien esté nosotros Como docents.

S1: While she faces challenges in communicating with some of her students who don't speak Spanish. Sanchez says they find ways to overcome the language barrier , like using apps available on a smartphone.

S5: Si fueron Los Unicef al Dia Sanchez para comentarios Como esta es el recibio y un cartels y en el objetivo era mal aqui a Tijuana.

S2: Unicef came to their school to provide curricular support for this event. They handed out materials to make posters to welcome Amal.

S5: Bienvenida mal este pues sobre todo lo mas de la Paz e todo el objetivo. Los ninos esta buscando , pues la Paz.

S1: As one of the older spectators was Alejandro. We asked for her thoughts on what was happening.

S6: Uh , un siento historico realmente eh Amal suna marionette pasa por lugares de conflicto a este es la frontera. Siempre es un espacio de conflicto , pero es muy bonito. Es muy interesante ver la reaction también de la gente de Como.

S1: She was moved by what a mother presents.

S2: A child moving through conflict zones , which.

S1: Alejandro describes the border to be.

S2: Giving hope to people who are there to see her in person.

S6: Me gusta mucho la el dialogo ahi entre el espectador y las marionettes. Justamente nosotros Somos Los la vida. No , no tanto no tanto. La gente manipulate. Si no la espectadores. Entonces eso es lo mas me gusta hay Como magia. Cuando se ve una marionette.

S1: Also seeing the 12 foot tall puppet walking around interacting with people , Alejandro explains how the spectators somehow magically gives a mall life.

S6: También entonces es muy bonito Como la interaction de no solo de la marionette sino representa.

S2: But it's not all magic. There is a team of skilled puppeteers behind them all , one operating her legs and head features like the mouth and eyes from the inside of the puppet , while two others guide and move her hands to gesticulate human like emotion.

S1: We were able to talk to Enrico that way. I'm also director of puppetry. And.

S7: And.

S8: I'm from Taiwan.

S9: And as an assistant you're one of the people who handled it well.

S8: I'm the director of puppetry , so I trained the crew up. There's nine , there are eight puppeteers , and they all rotate through all the positions. It takes several weeks of practice. Some of them started with experience on stilts. Some of them didn't. We look for a mix of people so with different backgrounds. And that's very important for us. So the entire company is very international. We work on listening ensemble work , making sure that they can get a sense of each other even without speaking to each other during the events. I direct them from the outside through the event , because every moment is live and the audience is experiencing what a model is experiencing in that moment. So anything that happens is largely improvised. We have a very loose structure and we know what's coming next. But sometimes the beautiful moments are when something unexpected happens and we need to be able to respond to that in the moment.

S2: We asked Enrico about the interactions Amal had with the physical border and what message they were trying to convey in that special moment.

S8: It's a very , very difficult. It's a very difficult story to tell. I think we look at it as a ten year old girl who's had to pass through many borders and , and see , um , many difficult things along her journey. So there's always a it's a very particular story to tell when Amal is near the water because the crossing of the water and also what the , what the ocean holds , um , all the narratives that of all the people who have made those crossings , or also people who maybe did not manage to make it all the way. And so for her , it's a moment of understanding that the ocean offers no limits. Um , but also , um , it becomes a space of reflection for her.

S1: Before we left , we spoke to David Len.

S2: Co-producer of The Walk , Little Amal.

S1: Which is the official name of the theatre event. He told us why they started their journey through Mexico , in Tijuana and what Amal represents.

S10: We are very interested in the border. The border is a very important place. It's important for Mexico , born for America , it's important for the world. And because Amal's journey ended the US part of the journey and Santiago , it was obvious to cross the border into Tijuana. And here we are. Half of it is in America , is in the US , half of it is in Mexico. But it's the same thing. It's the same place. It's one territory. So we're very happy that we could start Amal's Mexican journey in the border area here in Tijuana. Yes.

S1: Yes. We also asked David about that moving moment when Amal experienced the San Diego Tijuana border.

S11: That was what happened.

S10: Well , she got upset. She got distressed. I mean , the the the wall is an act of violence. It's an act of violence against people. It's only there because people want to move , because they need to move. And the wall says you cannot move. Uh , and , you know , she has a lot of experience now. She's been in many countries. She's seen , uh , you know , people who are vulnerable have people treated. And she had a moment of distress.

S2: He then mentioned something that we didn't know , something we found very moving.

S10: Well , it's very powerful. I think when there's so many young people from so many parts of the world , you know , what we try to do is we take a representative of people who are marginalized , and we place her in the center. Like this is the center of culture in this city , in this great city , and we celebrate them. So I hope they felt that through how they were being celebrated in their potential. A mom means hope. It means what could come , what we could do , the possibilities. Not uh oh. This is a terrible problem. It's how can this be a good thing in the world for the people themselves , but for everybody. And I hope the young people felt a little bit of , uh , that a little bit of the the pleasure people take in. Amel. I hope they felt a little bit of it for themselves as well.

S2: Amal means hope in Arabic , and that's exactly what she made us. And the people there feel.

S1: Hope for love , hope for peace , hope for a better tomorrow. This episode of Port of Entry was written and produced by Natalie Gonzalez in Julius Caesar Ortiz Franco.

S2: Adrian Villalobos is technical producer and sound designer. Elma Gonzalez Lima Brandao is our editor.

S1: Lisa morissette is director of audio programming and operations , and John Decker is senior director of content development.

S2: This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting , a private corporation funded by the American people.

S1: This project was also made possible with support from California Humanities , a nonprofit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Visit call home. Org. Soy yo soy Natalia Gonzalez. Nos vemos pronto.

Hola Friends!

We are currently on a production break working on our next season. But we didn't want to miss this opportunity to talk to you about Amal, a 12-foot-sized puppet girl who spreads a message of hope wherever she goes. Join us to listen to find out the impact she made on the locals and us while she was here!

Nos vemos pronto!

About Season 5

Port of Entry has a whole new set of stories for you, this time centered around LGBTQ+ issues.

This season we dive with our guests on what it means to be queer in the borderlands, finding yourself and fighting for your rights.

Follow hosts Natalie Gonzalez and Alan Lilienthal as they sit down with these fascinating people who share their stories.

Listen in and join us!

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Hosts: Alan Lilienthal and Natalie González
Producer: Julio C. Ortiz Franco
Technical Producer/Sound Designer: Adrian Villalobos
Editor: Elma Gonzalez Lima Brandao
Episodes translated by: Natalie González and Julio C. Ortíz Franco
Director of Audio Programming and Operations: Lisa Morrisette-Zapp

This program is made possible, in part, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people