In Saturday’s New York Times, Neil MacFarquhar wrote about the difficulty in measuring global progress on the Millennium Development Goals. As MacFarquhar rightly points out, while there’s no question about our collective commitment to eradicating hunger and poverty (which, MacFarquhar writes would be like “opposing mother’s milk”) there is no cookie-cutter approach to creating effective programs and policies that work in every country or every context: to date, only one in five countries has reduced by half the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day.
Eliminating poverty requires an understanding of the complex and interconnected factors that perpetuate it, an understanding that shines through in Cary Fukunaga’s visually stunning debut film Sin Nombre, which had its world premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
Sin Nombre follows the story of two young people—Sayra from Honduras and Willy of Mexico—who meet during a long and dangerous ride on the top of a train headed through the Mexican countryside to the United States. Despite being unable to know what their futures hold, the main characters and many others take a leap of faith, taking the chance what lies ahead is a better than the extreme poverty they are leaving behind. Throughout the journey, they experience violence, sexual assault, cold and hunger, and a breathtaking range of emotions: fear and hope at what awaits them in the United States, and sadness and longing for who they’ve left behind.
While this film is not the first to tell the story of the many who risk everything for the promise of a better life across an international border, Sin Nombre’s focus on youth is less common—both in film and prominent policy fora including the United Nations.
While Fukunaga does not make any political arguments in regards to immigration in Sin Nombre, he does take the position that everyone be treated with some measure of humanity. As world leaders gather this week at the UN, hopefully they too will recognize the needs and rights of young people living in countries where education, employment and opportunity are not available for many.