Border of Dreams: A Second Chance at Storytelling

With funding from an Edgren Scholars grant, Soraya Keiser ’24 and Professor of Journalism Scott Winter produced Border of Dreams, a Textura documentary that shares the story of immigrants and their journeys.

By Macey Heath, social media content specialist

September 20, 2023 | 8 a.m.

Border Teammates

The Border of Dreams Guatemala team poses for a selfie in Tecpán October 2022. The team working on this documentary was made up of students from Bethel University and Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala City.

The creation of the documentary Border of Dreams was a defining moment for Bethel University’s Textura. It represented a new era of the student-produced publication, now bringing together video and audio storytelling to explore the human side of immigration. Premiering on October 12th on the Bethel campus, audiences will get a chance to see the first student and faculty-led Textura documentary. Guided by senior international relations and journalism major Soraya Keiser ’24, and Professor of Journalism Scott Winter, the project illuminated the stories of immigrants, offering the creators a second shot at telling a story they once never thought they’d have.

The journey for the Textura team began in January 2022 with an interim study abroad trip co-led by Winter and Jessica Henderson, professor of design, in Guatemala. Students were divided up into teams of writers and designers and sent out with translators to learn the stories of people living in Antigua. Keiser was teamed up with student designer and photographer, Bryson Rosell '22, and the two set out with Majo Díaz, one of Textura’s Guatemalan partners, who served as an interviewer and translator.

Díaz’s connections provided the opportunity for Keiser and Rosell to explore the topic of immigration. She introduced them to a family who had made three failed attempts to immigrate to the U.S. The team planned to spend three weeks learning their story, identifying the main character, and immersing themselves within the family’s day-to-day life. But in the midst of their research, COVID-19 struck, affecting more than half of all students on the trip.

Once COVID-free and after a waiting period, the student team was able to spend more time with the family. But as they were preparing to head home, Keiser felt they still had more work to do. “We wished we could do more justice to the family’s stories, we felt like we weren’t doing our jobs well,” she says. Throughout the span of the trip, Winter had also spent time with the Guatemalan family. He said that it was one of the best things he’s ever experienced, and expressed the need to find more ways to deepen this connection.

Border Roses

Elisa, Mardoqueo's wife, poses for a photo with her mother and sister. While Mardoqueo is working at the rose farm Elisa watches the children, maintains the home and helps with church events.

After returning to the U.S., Winter proposed continuing the project where they left off. “That spring I talked to Soraya and we decided to pitch an Edgren Scholars grant that would allow us to build and finish that story, but do it in a new way to bring life to the project,” he says. While the written story was rooted in the weeks they had already spent in Guatemala, they envisioned completing it as a video and audio production. With this multimedia approach, they aimed to spotlight individual family members’ stories and bring a fresh dimension to the project.

They planned the documentary to be divided into three segments. “We wanted to interview two families—one who made it to the U.S. and the other family in Guatemala who didn’t make it. We wanted to compare what their lives looked like, how they were similar and how they were different, and the third part was to gain insights of experts in the field,” Keiser explains.

Upon receiving the Edgren Scholarship in May, the project moved from planning to action. For Winter, receiving the scholarship made his aspiration to transform Textura into a multimedia and documentary platform a reality. “The stories we are telling are amazing,” he says, emphasizing how visual storytelling could magnify the impact of narratives. Ultimately, Winter saw the project as a testament to Bethel’s investment in its students' growth and development, pushing boundaries and expanding creative horizons.

Border team at work

Star Tribune photographer Aaron Lavinsky and Associated Press video journalist Mark Vancleave provide camera tips to the Textura team before they begin conducting interviews June 2022.

The Textura team spent the summer of 2022 traveling across the U.S. In July, the team went on a trip to New York to interview John Moore, a Getty Images photographer who had spent a decade of his life photographing immigration. Moore’s words left a lasting impact on Keiser. “He emphasized that immigration is always changing as a topic and everyone's story is different,” she says. “In the U.S. we lump it all together saying this is what immigration is and why it's bad, but hearing his view on seeing the humanity in each person he photographed, reaffirmed my belief that personal narratives are more important than the headlines and numbers you see on the news.”

In July, the team’s journey continued with a visit to a family of immigrants who were undocumented, but successfully settled in the U.S. They managed to connect with them despite the complexities of their situation. “Interviewing someone, you never know how they’re going to feel sharing things, especially with the added layer of being undocumented,” Keiser says. “We wanted to establish context, share our side of the story, get to know them, and figure out what direction we wanted the story to take.”

The summer culminated in focused interviews, including a significant moment with the eldest daughter of the family. Winter and Keiser witnessed the sadness she carried, sharing the fears that plagued her family daily. The burden of maintaining a perfect image, avoiding actions that might arouse suspicion, and living in constant anxiety of family separation—all of this deeply affected the team. Winter says, “It was heartbreaking for me that she has to live in that fear. They would never hurt anybody… imagining that stress and having to feel that way is awful.” The connections formed with the family were profound and served as a reminder of how each individual possesses a unique personal story.

While that summer was filled with team effort, Winter highlights the vital role collaboration played in shaping the project—not only among the students involved but with their partners in film. “We started to hand off footage to the Guatemalan director—Nataly Basterrechea and the Guatemalan editor, who were putting the project all together,” Winter explains.

Basterrechea played a significant role in leading and directing the documentary, having previously directed a similar project in 2017, the year Textura was launched. “Our partners were so generous to us that we viewed this opportunity to help invest in their careers,” Winter says. He empowered the Guatemalan team to take the reins of the project, entrusting them with creative control. “We controlled the budget and educational aspects, we wanted to give this newer film director an opportunity,” he says, underlining their commitment to fostering Basterrechea's talent. 

Border Team at work

Director Nataly Basterrechea and translator Majo Díaz interview Mardoqueo in a field behind his home in the highlands of Guatemala.

Last fall, Winter and Keiser returned to Guatemala, determined to complete the narrative after experiencing the profound stories shared by their interviewees. Arriving with a set plan and focusing on Mardoqueo, the man of the family who attempted to migrate, their interviews delved into his world, his workplace on a farm, and his deep connection with his children and family. Reflecting on this experience, Keiser shares, “He was on the cover of the Textura magazine, so presenting it to him was a surreal experience. When I wrote that story, I never thought I could return and show it to him. There were so many moving parts that just ended up fitting perfectly.”

Keiser observed the differences and similarities between the two families during this trip. “Seeing the Guatemalan family’s community and their faith practice was fascinating, as was seeing the religious practices and celebrations of the family in the U.S. It was interesting to see the diverse ways in which they worship,” she says. Observing Mardoqueo working in his element, against the backdrop of the Day of the Dead celebrations, allowed the team to fully immerse themselves in his reality. After returning home from this second trip, the team felt fulfilled, knowing they had completed their duties for the project, and also to the family.

Mardequo with his daughter

Mardoqueo poses for a photo with his 5-year-old daughter Rocio. Mardoqueo wanted to try to immigrate to the United States to provide a better life for his children, but was unsuccessful.

Undeniably, there were challenges in the journey. The language barrier, uncertainties of the initial stages, aligning dates and times, and securing funds were stressful for the team. However, for Keiser, the opportunity to extend their Textura story, leading alongside Winter, and realizing her passions outweighed the setbacks. “He has always been supportive of my dreams and supportive of both my international relations and journalism major. He is definitely a dreamer, but those dreams have become a reality so far,” she says, of Winter. Keiser’s talent and unwavering commitment impressed Winter throughout the project. “Soraya never let me down throughout the whole summer, with the repeated trips to the same city, and just being the glue that kept the Guatemala and U.S. team together,” he says.

Keiser’s passion for long-form journalism and features was fully realized, especially on their second trip. “Returning to Guatemala a second time, I was able to realize my long-form journalism aspirations, which is cultivating relationships that go above transactional encounters. Going back and showing the family Textura (the magazine), and showing them that people are reading their story emphasized the importance of that to me,” she says. “I’d love to work on Textura for my whole life. The intersection of international relations with journalism was awesome for me to experience in the real world,” she adds.

Looking ahead, Keiser has high hopes. “I hope viewers see immigration as more than just headlines and numbers, and recognize the humanity in every person. It’s a very contentious issue right now, not just from a legal standpoint but from an ethical standpoint as well—it requires empathy and compassion,” she says. “I hope people watching see that. I hope people see immigrants coming to the U.S. not because they want to but because a lot of times, they have no other options to support their families.”

“Bethel professors have drilled into me the world isn’t black and white, and the important things are in the grey. In that nuance, you don’t necessarily have to be seeking a right or wrong answer."

— Soraya Keiser '24

The film-making process has also taught Keiser the importance of acting upon empathy, both in storytelling and in life. “Bethel professors have drilled into me the world isn’t black and white, and the important things are in the gray,” she says. “In that nuance, you don’t necessarily have to be seeking a right or wrong answer. The issue with immigration sits in the gray for me. It led me to seek out the human aspect of stories and find out where I can share my compassion and empathy with someone by hearing their story.”

"We learned how to make a documentary, the storytelling, the visual communication, but the bigger thing was learning about people who see the world very differently from us."

— Professor Winter

Winter echoes similar sentiments. “When people see this documentary, I hope their minds and hearts are touched by people they see on screen,” he says. “We learned how to make a documentary, the storytelling, the visual communication, but the bigger thing was learning about people who see the world very differently from us. We grappled with ethical challenges and explored what it means to be a good neighbor, as Christians and storytellers. Our goal is to depoliticize immigration as much as possible so people can get past their own assumptions and create a discussion. We want to get this in front of as many people as possible, so they can have the same transformative experience that we had in making it.”  

In the end, the Border of Dreams became more than just a film. It has nurtured, connections, expanded horizons, and solidified a sense of community. “We now live in a community we didn’t even know we lived in, and have friends we never would have met if it weren’t for this project and the people who helped make it,” Winter concludes.

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