Despite being used as political footballs for over a decade, immigrants have found strength in their individual stories. While these fights rage in Washington, Mexican-American immigration cannot be boiled down to sheer numbers. The many men and women who come to America seek a better life, not only for their families but for future generations. Mija, which premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, looks to a new narrative to understand American policies’ emotional toll on families.
Mija follows two Mexican-American women seeking stability and financial success in the music industry. Doris Muñoz attempts to restart her career as a manager after successfully helping lo-fi sensation Cuco climb the Spotify charts. As a child of undocumented immigrants, Doris seeks to find financial stability that will allow her to sponsor her parents’ efforts to obtain visas. Doris discovers another musical act seeking her own form of stability. A music career seemed unobtainable for twenty-year-old artist Jacks Haupt before meeting Doris. The two women create a connection that highlights the difficult life and expectations placed on the children of undocumented immigrants. The feature debut of documentarian Isabel Castro, Mija delivers as one of the most emotional films of the festival.
Castro captures the emotional roller coaster facing each woman through a mixture of contemporary footage and home videos. Doris opens her life to Castro’s camera early. The collaboration paints the ambitious manager as a hard-working woman with the pressure of her family’s future on her shoulders. Her family supports her quest to discover lightning in a bottle for a second time. Yet the toll of caring for her undocumented parents in the United States, and her brother in Mexico, builds emotional tension into every moment Doris inhabits the screen. The stakes of her success are never in question.
For Jacks, the dangers of unrealistic expectations hit hard. At what point can she pursue her dreams and opportunities when her family believes those dreams are selfish? Jacks proves her talent time after time, but her parents grow frustrated as she wastes “more realistic” career paths. Castro captures the dichotomy facing Jacks and many immigrant families today. It’s a truth that helps establish Mija as an essential story of the immigrant experience.
Castro and her team editors expertly weave together the array of footage at their disposal. The two women discuss their similarities in their upbringing, proving their experience is far from unique. Yet Castro and her editing team highlight the difference a support system can make. As Jacks struggles with the pressure placed on her by her family, Doris shoulders the burden for her parents.
Mija surprises with the essential but straightforward conversation at its heart. Castro crafts the stories of her subjects in a way that invites empathy and warmth. The two women have the ambition and talent to conquer the world. Yet their difficult upbringings and the immense pressure from their families adds obstacles in their way. As they fight against forces and ideologies, Mija reminds us of their strength and tenacity.