By Andrew T. Hupp
On September 14, the Student Union Theater premiered the documentary 14: Dred Scott, Wong Kim Ark, and Vanessa Lopez. The film focuses on the 14th amendment and its substantial impact on the United States of America and its inhabitants. However, the film was not merely created to be a history lesson. It exhibits how our society is influenced by this amendment, along with past and present pursuits to reform policies with the ambition of fostering a more equal nation.
The documentary first delves into the controversial case of Dred and Harriet Scott, who sought freedom for themselves and their daughters from slavery in 1847. A decade later the landmark case, Scott v. Sanford, lost because Scott was not considered a citizen. At this time in America, slaves were considered “property” and not “people”, thus Scott was not allowed to sue within the judicial system. When commenting on the cases imperativeness, the director of the film, Anne Galisky, said, “I would like for students to remember Harriet’s fight for her daughters, alongside her husband Dred, as one of the factors that brought us the 14th Amendment.”
41 years after Dred Scot v. Sanford and 33 years after emancipation from slavery came the highly debated case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark. Although Ark’s parents were immigrants from China, the U.S. legally considered Ark a citizen based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment; which states that anyone born in the United States of America is considered a lawful citizen. However, the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers, called Ark’s citizenship into question. After travelling abroad, Ark was denied reentry into his hometown of San Francisco. Ark challenged the United States and won his case in the Supreme Court. After the decision, the case set precedent for future arguments concerning the legality of natural born citizens in the United States.
More than 100 years later, these two colossal Supreme Court decisions impact the arguments on immigration. It is common in today’s political scene to hear arguments over immigration and the right to citizenship. In her documentary, Galisky said her team intended “to explore how the citizenship clause came to be in the Constitution and what is at stake today.”
As an example of the citizenship clause endeavor, Graham Street Productions followed the life of Vanessa Lopez and her family. The family, mostly undocumented immigrants from Mexico, fought to reform the 14th Amendment and deteriorate the stigma against “illegal aliens.” The documentary reveals the immigrant family as ordinary people. They had dreams, responsibilities, and hopes for their descendants like every other person living in the United States. By the illustration of the Lopez family, it was quite evident how fervent individuals have become toward this goal of modifying the 14th Amendment. A person who embodies this ardent spirit is Vanessa’s mother, Rosario Lopez. Lopez actively participated in everything from hunger strikes to peaceful protests with the hopes of inciting change within her community. Galisky films families like these so “young people will take away the idea that people of color and immigrants are not just a sidebar in American history.”
Galisky tries to remind students that “you are at the center of the movement to make this country better. Right here, right now. You can influence your peers and those older and younger than yourself. You can bring your passion for justice and your knowledge to the state capital and the U.S. capital. Our civil and human rights cannot be taken for granted.”
When asked about her opinion on Galisky’s view of national participation, in relation to the film, Haylee Ferguson (C’20) said, “I think it’s very noble that we have people willing to tackle such controversial issues and it should remind us of our power we have as citizens of the U.S.” The whole goal of Galisky’s film was to spark a “conversation starter, not a conversation ender” within communities. It is abundantly clear that 14 has sparked that conversation Galisky was so eager for and hopefully it will encourage additional action to educate and pursue reform in our country.