Bernardo Ruiz’s look at the Latino/a high school dropout crisis concludes its PBS bow with the second of two hour-long docs. Both have screened at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival and will continue to be made available at community screenings.
Ruiz’s contribution to the AMERICAN GRADUATE initiative profiles six Latino/a teens who have struggled with school, emblematic of the challenges faced by their peers around the country. This second film focuses on three young men, statistically more at-risk for dropping out than their female counterparts. As in the first film, Ruiz selects geographically diverse subjects, underscoring the permeation the Latino/a population has made throughout the country. Eduardo, from San Diego, serves as an inspiring figure, able, with the fortunate support of a mentor, to escape gang life, go to college, and become a role model in return. The frustrations and aspirations of DREAMers are represented by Gustavo, who was brought to Georgia from Mexico at nine years old, and became an outspoken activist to ensure the future of his education. The third subject, Juan, considered dropping out, largely because of feelings of isolation due to his sexuality, ultimately finding support through the performing arts. While Juan is sympathetic, his story, beyond reflecting the general diversity of the Latino/a community, sticks out because it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the specific concerns of Latino/a students. While there’s some discussion of his mother’s devout Christianity, and brief mentions of Latino machismo, the larger impact of his ethnic and cultural identity on his sexuality is lacking. Still, taken as a whole, Ruiz’s project drives home the point that these young subjects, and the countless others they represent, make up a significant part of the fabric of modern America, and their educational performance can either contribute to this country’s future success or hasten its failure.