Soñadora Film: Being an Immigrant is Complicated and Beautiful

Soñadora. Visionary. Dreamer. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). These are the definitions the “Soñadora” film crew are grappling with in their upcoming film featuring Vanessa Chavarriaga.

Photo Credit: Micheli Oliver (@micheliphoto)

Traditional film formulas will not work to show the duality of the story told in our first grant-funded film project, “Soñadora”.

Funded by our friends at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and provided exclusively for our upcoming Backcountry Film Festival tour, the story of Vanessa’s complex existence in the outdoors is not an overwhelming objective to overcome (like a mountain to climb or a record to break). Rather, the “Soñadora” film crew will use vulnerable storytelling from years of filming and recreating together to rewrite the typical film formula and welcome the outdoor community into Vanessa’s worlds.

The film begins by reading Vanessa’s own words in Spanish (translated here): “I was born in the heart of the world. In a land of abundance and love. There, everything flows. The rivers and the páramos. The laughter of my aunts’ follows me like a drop of rain flowing into the sea.”

Throughout the film, Vanessa’s original writing will guide the audience through the complexities of what it’s like to be stripped from one place to be dropped in another and asked to excel just to be constantly rejected… and that even in the winter, where we look for solace and quiet recreation, sometimes it cannot be found.

Below are gathered journal writings from the Dreamer herself, Vanessa, to give us a look into the inspiration for the film (past and future).

August 14, 2021 (Red Desert, WY)

“I tried to hide the most beautiful parts of me for years. My melanated skin, my father’s accent, my mother’s Colombian cooking. The elite outdoor athlete community was never a safe space for me to celebrate my differences. It wasn’t too long until I started rejecting the norms of the outdoor athlete community, and the hidden parts of my identity began to come out. It was the end of one life, but the hidden part of me knew it was also a beginning.

All of my life, I have known the burden of carrying my family’s pain on my back. I’ve carried years of colonization, forced assimilation, and violence. Today in the desert, I learned that this was only half the story. I also carry my family’s joy, their laughter, and their ability to connect with the land. These gifts come in a different language, one that is difficult to put down on paper but flows freely when I am running. My ancestral joy is well acquainted with rolling hills, red rock, and big blue skies. I am a piece of the Earth and I have never been separate from it.”

September 11, 2021 (Yellowstone, WY)

“Reduced to its simplest form, migration is the basic right to move. Migration is the basic right to movement, to freedom, to safety, and is not that different from the movement we exercise when we run. Moving on a single track trail is not that different from moving across a border.

I grew up undocumented. As a child, I deeply internalized the narrative that I was not allowed to move. I couldn’t visit my grandparents. I began to forget the names of the trees I once knew. This manifested itself in my body in many different ways. I didn’t spend much time outside, and I spent most of my formative years afraid to take up space in any capacity.

When I run, I express the freedom of movement that my ancestors fought for. I feel their strength lift me up on the trail, making my feet light as I dance through tight rocks and corners. I run for those who are punished for exercising their basic rights to movement and safety. I run for the Earth, who suffers and cries at our borders.

I run for my inner child. I remind her that we can move as far and as fast as we can, and no one can take that away from us. I run for those who grow up like me, so that they know another world is possible for us all. I run for our collective healing and liberation.”

October 21, 2022 (Boise, ID)

“We have a unique ability to hold multiple worlds in our arms, wrap our tongues around multiple cultures. I carry the rivers of my childhood in my veins. no place feels more like home than the mattress on my grandmother’s bedroom floor.

because we’re not able to visit home very often, if at all, we’re able to find slices of home wherever we go. my world is bigger because it has to be. I continue to reaffirm what I have always known: another world is possible.

I’ve never met a Colombian immigrant that doesn’t long to be back in Colombia. I really haven’t. Many of us left in search of safety, better opportunities, or better futures for future generations. In my case it was all three. Being an immigrant means grieving something that is not entirely lost. The tradeoff to being home in the Mountain West is that you give up your culture. You almost have to forget it entirely because it’s too painful to remember and carry it with you in these spaces.

While being able to leave is a privilege in and of itself, I think it’s important to point out that one should not have to leave their home in search of basic human rights.”

Immigrants are continually forced to assimilate and outdoor sports are no different. Is another world possible? We will have to watch to find out.

“Soñadora” will premiere at the 18th annual Backcountry Film Festival World Premiere in Boise, ID on Oct 21, 2022. It will then go on tour to all other BCFF screenings across the country throughout the winter.

Photo Credits: Micheli Oliver (@micheliphoto)