Just before Dandelion Day in May, Carbondale resident Alejandra Rico launched a campaign to raise awareness and funds to support an independent documentary film, “Sunnú”, about the struggle of indigenous northern Mexican communities to preserve their native corn seed and their way of life.
Rico herself is from Chihuahua City in the northern Mexico state of Chihuahua. Her sister, Ariana Rico Bustillos, is sound manager for the film.
The film addresses the ways in which the monopolization of the food industry is threatening to destroy rural life in Mexico as well as the rich diversity of Mexican corn-seed varieties and says the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has allowed U.S. government-subsidized corn to be sold in Mexico at a low price, taking over the market of indigenous corn growers. The film also says the introduction of genetically modified seeds are irreversibly contaminating native seed varieties. Without seed diversity, food production in these communities and across the globe is vulnerable to disease and climate change.
Because indigenous people’s lives have centered around the planting and harvesting of corn — from their dances and celebrations to their entire cosmology — their culture is at risk of disappearing as well. Rico said the destructive pattern they’re seeing in Mexico is happening to farming communities all around the world. She organized a booth at Dandelion Day to start spreading the word about the film and the food politics it addresses. She distributed free native Colorado corn seeds to raise people’s awareness about the value of native seed varieties; she shared bilingual copies of “Food, Inc.,” a film about corporate farming in the United States and the unhealthy food it produces; and she talked with people about fundraising efforts to support the making of “Sunnú.”
Three months after Dandelion Day, Rico said she is noticing the ripple effects of those efforts: people are coming up to her to tell her how tall their corn is growing; other people are letting her know how the “Food, Inc.” video has changed their family’s eating habits; and as word has spread throughout the community about the film, people are continuing to make donations.
In May, the film makers launched a “Kickstarter” campaign to raise the $50,000 they needed to produce the film. Kickstarter is an online resource that generates funding for projects through individual donations rather than corporate or venture capital backing. Projects such as a film, game or CD are posted on the Kickstarter website and individuals can back a project by pledging a donation. Creators keep 100 percent ownership of their projects.
One stipulation of Kickstarter is that no funds are actually distributed until 100 percent of funds are pledged. Sunnú set a goal of raising $50,000 on Kickstarter by May 22. They were about $17,000 short of their goal, so were not able to receive any funds pledged through Kickstarter.
However, Rico was able to send the $12,600 she raised just from Carbondale to the Sunnú crew, enabling them to continue their work on the film. They used these funds to film more communities across Mexico and edit existing footage. They hope to use this additional footage to leverage the remaining funds needed to complete the film.
Rico noted that as she talks about the film to folks in Carbondale, there are many different angles through which they feel a personal connection to “Sunnú.” Of course, the area’s strong food movement — from the Roaring Fork Food Policy Council to community garden advocates — shares Sunnú’s commitment to local control over food production.
The film’s director, Teresa Camou, is a puppeteer who has worked with the Bread and Puppet Theater Company in Vermont since 1996, leading workshops and touring internationally with them. She is also the founder and director of an indigenous puppet theater company based in the mountains of Chihuahua. The giant puppets marching down Carbondale’s Main Street on Dandelion Day demonstrate the number of Carbondale folks who share Camou’s passion for puppetry.
As Rico discovered while working for four years as the community liaison for schools in Glenwood, the Roaring Fork Valley also includes a large number of immigrants who originated from Rico’s home state of Chihuahua.
Rico has connected with some Chihuahuan immigrants living in Carbondale who have lived the very story depicted in Sunnú: small, family farmers who were unable to earn a living after the development of NAFTA; they left the land that their families had farmed for generations, looking for work in other parts of Mexico; unable to find work in Mexico they immigrated illegally to the U.S. in search of a job, sending home a portion of their earnings to the family they left behind in Mexico.
Ironically, Rico said she didn’t truly understand what it was like to be a poor Mexican laborer until she came to Carbondale. In the summer of 2000, during a break from law school in Mexico, she joined a few friends who were traveling to the U.S. Her friend had an aunt living in Carbondale, who found Rico and her three friends two rooms to rent in a trailer for one month. The four law students shared two tiny and very hot bedrooms in the trailer, and a couple and their small child shared the other bedroom.
Rico recalls riding the bus home from one of her two jobs, feeling so exhausted she could barely stay awake, realizing how many of her compatriots lived almost their entire lives under these conditions. Rico said she realized how challenging this life would be “even in friendly and beautiful Carbondale.”
In Mexico, Rico went to private schools and was not forced to earn money as a youth. While she came from a family with a strong sense of social awareness, her knowledge of the plight of low-income Mexican people was theoretical until that month she spent in Carbondale.
Through the years, as Rico has traveled back and forth between Carbondale and Mexico, she has also become more aware of another aspect of the Mexican immigrants’ experience — crossing the border. Despite the fact that she now has a law degree and official papers to enter the U.S. legally, she has had some frightening and demeaning experiences of being interrogated and intimidated by Border Patrol. Rico said she could only imagine the desperation of people who would enter the country illegally.
Rico’s sister, Ariana, also spent some time in Carbondale. She worked for the Spanish newspaper La Tribuna from 2008-2009 and volunteered as a DJ at KDNK during this time.
After being gone for about six years — going to college, working and traveling — Rico and her sister both returned home to Chihuahua in 2009. Rico says they both “saw Chihuahua with new eyes” and felt more passionate than ever about the need to preserve peace and dignity among the Chihuahuan population. They soon connected with activists who had been working for decades advocating for indigenous rights.
Although Rico decided to return to Carbondale, she continues to play a critical role in terms of fund-raising and public relations for “Sunnú.” Because of Rico, Carbondale has become the central link between the film and the United States. Rico notes that her face-to-face interactions with people here have been essential to Carbondale’s support for the film.
“People need to really see me and my commitment to understand how important this film is,” Rico said.
Rico is a staff member at the Carbondale Branch Library, yoga teacher, gardener and volunteer DJ at KDNK. She also coached volleyball at Carbondale Middle School for the 2012-13 school year.
Rico’s sister is currently visiting Carbondale and will be offering a presentation at the library at 5 p.m. on Aug. 7. She will show footage from “Sunnú” and be available to answer questions.
Ariana Rico Bustillos, Rico’s sister and sound manager of the documentary film “Sunnú,” which addresses the destruction of rural life in Mexico and how its demise is related to the food industry, will be giving a presentation at the Carbondale Branch Library at 5 p.m. on Aug. 7. For more information on “Sunnú,” go to sunnu.org.