Reel Orange

I Am Orange County lets Latino youth show their real OC

God bless the Orange County Human Relations Commission, the county-sponsored band of hippies that the Board of Supervisors tries to off every couple of years. Despite budget cuts, despite constant editorial jabs thrown its way by TheOrange County Register, despite fighting the good fight from the depths of Hell, the county agency continues to create innovative programs that make the Mexican-hating capital of America just a bit nicer. And they've come across their most effective tool yet with I Am Orange County, a 30-minute documentary scheduled to premiere this Saturday at the Orange County Children's Therapeutic Arts Center.

I Am Orange County is the culmination of a year-long effort by the Human Relations Commission that served two purposes: to give Santa Ana high schoolers an opportunity to tell their stories and to grant the kiddies the tools to transfer them onto film. Through the help of visiting filmmakers and equipment purchased through a grande grant from the Community Technology Foundation of California, instructors furnished about a dozen students with disposable and video cameras to capture their lives.

And capture the kids did. A rough copy of I Am Orange County was unavailable at press time, but footage shows kids extolling their loves: carne asada, apartments, families. Images from the student walk-outs of March appear, along with footage of poetry recitations or kids just having fun. Sounds like pedestrian stuff, but in these times—when just merely having brown skin is a political statement—efforts such as I Am Orange County are not only necessary, they're almost revolutionary.

The kids were still working around the clock last week at the Orange County Children's Therapeutic Arts Center, a bustling non-profit that served as I Am Orange County'sproduction base. Their editorial bay consisted of a partitioned aisle toward the back, next to a dance studio where students take dance and art classes. Most of the kids were shy, but their purpose in vision needed no amplification.

"All you see [on national television] about Orange County are the blond chicks," said one girl as she reviewed footage she shot of a family cactus, her Mexican take on the family tree. "Latinos are absent. But we're not faceless animals—we belong here."

"Before, we had a voice but no tools," says Israel Gomez, a skinny Santa Ana High student dressed in all black, with a fashion sense that suggests equal parts Morrissey and The Nightmare Before Christmas. "Now, we have the tools."

And part two is in the works.


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