Nearly five months ago, Melanie Saravia, a senior at Albemarle High School, and her peers in the school’s Latinx Club said they wanted to make a video that would have an impact on the community.

“We realized that there were so many students who walk through the halls here, yet nobody really knows the story behind their faces,” Saravia said. “We wanted to create a way to kind of uplift their voices and make them heard in our community.”

The Latinx Club’s video was among two short films that premiered Saturday at the Light House Studio in Charlottesville.

“Nosotros” features students sharing their reasons for migrating to the United States, as well as the stereotypes they endure. University of Virginia art students produced an eight-minute animated movie about Maria Chavalan Sut, who migrated from Guatemala. She sought public sanctuary at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Charlottesville after receiving a deportion date from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Nearly 160 attendees huddled at Light House’s theater to watch the movies. They had the opportunity to ask questions during a panel discussion and after the viewings.

“We think a lot of time, people have the wrong ideas of immigrants,” said Saravia, an aspiring journalist who hopes to make other videos that shine a light on immigration issues. “They think the reasons why we come here are malicious — that [there is] mal intent behind them. We really wanted to put something out there that showed who we are.”

Attendees also asked the students about their own experiences, including ways bystanders can help immigrants when they’re attacked and any discrimination they face in school.

A Latinx Club member responded that the best way a bystander can help an immigrant who has been attacked and show solidarity is by stepping in and protecting the immigrant because he or she is probably feeling unsafe. In terms of discrimination in school, club members agreed English for Language Learners students face challenges to being placed in Advanced Placement and honors courses.

For Danielle Cormier, a second-year studio art and women gender studies major at UVa, it was important for her to make the movie because she said she wanted to increase awareness of people like Chavalan Sut who are seeking asylum.

“In the U.S. right now, immigration is a very hot topic, but it’s not in a good way,” she said, adding that Chavalan Sut’s story needed to be told to highlight her life experiences because she faces something “so heavy, such as deportation.”

She said she plans to do more animated videos to highlight similar social issues.

“This class has really inspired me to how much animation can really impact someone’s life,” Cormier said.


Billy Jean Louis joined Charlottesville Tomorrow as its education reporter in April 2019 and is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jean Louis speaks English, Haitian Creole and French.