In his work as coordinator for worship initiatives in Baylor University’s Spiritual Life division and as the Armstrong Browning Library’s composer-in- residence, Carlos Colon knows how well music carries and expresses emotion.
Music, mournful music, came to his mind whenever he considered the plight of those smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border only to be abandoned by their guides and left to die from exposure. That sad music will underline a short documentary, “Lamento Con Alas (Lament With Wings),” screening Tuesday and Wednesday at Baylor.
Last summer’s crisis of thousands of Central American youth and children showing up at the border rekindled Colon’s thoughts on the subject. It’s a problem that Baylor associate professor of anthropology Lori Baker has worked on for several years, using DNA testing to identify remains of immigrants who had died crossing into Texas.
While the question of what to do with the thousands who enter the United States illegally without proper documentation continues to stir heated debate, what often gets lost is compassion and empathy for the people at the heart of the problem, Colon said.
“Regardless of the legality of their situation, they deserve dignity,” he said.
As Colon considered those families separated when some left to pursue better conditions in the United States, the native Salvadoran realized he knew that feeling intimately.
When civil war tore apart his homeland in the 1980s, the 14-year-old Colon was sent to Guatemala to live with relatives until the whole family could be united. But that took five years.
When his family secured visas to enter the United States, Colon could not get one and was left behind. He later earned a student visa to attend college in the United States, becoming a citizen in 2001. But the ache of that separation remained.
“I’m pretty much part of this story,” he said.
In 2008, the composer created “Lamentations of Rufina Amaya” as a way to preserve the memory of the 1981 massacre of the village El Mozote in his homeland of El Salvador. Amaya survived the attack that killed more than 800 of her fellow villagers.
Last year, Colon wrote “With My Lost Saints,” a piece for cello, to mourn those largely anonymous immigrants who died with no one to mourn their loss. But he didn’t want to stop there.
A Christian who says he is deeply committed to using the arts as an expression and channel of his faith, Colon looked for a filmmaker sharing that belief who could put images to his music. He found her in Pilar Timpane, an independent documentary filmmaker at Duke University.
Timpane, who had lived in Mexico for a time, was open to his suggestion.
“Carlos had this vision of using his music against images to create a visual representation of immigration,” she said.
Expanding that to tell the story of Baker and her Reuniting Families project sold Timpane on the idea.
“It’s a wonderful story. I couldn’t pass it up,” she said.
Most films have music added after filming is complete, but “Lamento” started with its music first, Colon’s cello piece plus excerpts of his “Requiem.”
Filmed at Baylor and locations near McAllen, the movie includes Texas rancher Lavoyger Durham, whose concern for the illegal immigrants crossing his land caused him to set up water barrels for their use.
“It was a remarkable thing for me to see this good Samaritan,” she said. “I hope to do more with him.”
Timpane’s and Colon’s 12-minute “Lamento Con Alas: Documenting Immigrant Deaths Along the Texas-Mexico Border” gets its first public screening at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Alexander Reading Room of Alexander Residence Hall on the Baylor campus.
Cellist Chris Martin will perform Colon’s piece live, and the film’s two producers will field questions after its screening, with Jenny Howell as moderator.
“Lamento” also will be shown at three Baylor Chapel services at 9:05, 10:10 and 11:15 a.m. at Waco Hall.
Pilar aims to add more to her film, expanding it to 50 minutes in the future.
She and Colon hope “Lamento” will find a larger audience through screenings at independent film festivals, churches and colleges. As the film reaches more viewers — and listeners — Colon would like to see Christians and other people of faith become moved by compassion to take action.
“It’s a lament intended to stir the hearts of regular people and policymakers,” he said.