In Guadalajara, Mexico, there are very few prospects for the poor, especially those with young children. If you go through the city you will often find young mothers working at the city's busy crossroads, washing windscreens for a few pesos and huddling on the streets with their small children at night.
There are limited options to find stability and opportunity in a country where millions of people face poverty and see life on the street as the only way to survive.
Otilia Arellano has spent most of her 50 years living on these streets. But today she is building a different way to live. She is the leader of a self-sustaining group home where the otherwise homeless and destitute of Mexico's second largest city pool their meagre resources and their shared dreams to make a new life and build a new "family".
In Mexico's Crossroads, we explore the day-to-day life inside this unique group home as the residents struggle to support themselves.
By Juan Pablo Rojas and Fernando Valencia
The idea behind making this film was inspired by the work that Otilia Arellano does on a daily basis. She is always striving to find ways of improving the lives of people who work on Guadalajara’s streets. For them, the street represents work as they are denied opportunities to seek a more dignified life. For these street workers there are few public services, sustainable work or access to a quality education, social security and housing. Over 50 million people, 46 percent of the population in Mexico, face this situation.
53-year old Otilia has lived on the streets herself. She had to survive a life filled with addiction, violence, insecurity and abuse. Otilia met Patricia Lomas under these circumstances. They were both tired of the life they were leading, so they decided to rely on each other to overcome their addictions and search for a more stable and healthy life.
In 1998, supported and counseled by local activists, they founded a non-profit organisation called "Friends of the Street" and opened "The Friends House". The idea behind this organisation was to find a way to dignify the work they did washing cars and find enough clarity to demand basic human rights for those facing the same conditions. "The Friends House" was envisioned as a safe space in which families that were trying to turn their life around could feel embraced and supported for a certain period of time while they lived through this process. Otilia and Patricia’s experience would help as an example and a guide.
On April 2013, we met Otilia and she led us all over the streets of Mexico’s second largest city, especially the downtown area. With her we witnessed the reality of people who live on the streets. Otilia kept telling us shocking stories filled with violence, exclusion and marginalisation.
Months later, we had the opportunity of visiting "The Friends House". We heard anecdotes and stories of several people and families that lived there. There was one particular story that caught our attention, the story of Alba, a single mom working at the crossroads. She had lost her husband the previous year and recently arrived to "The Friends House".
Alba's face was not unfamiliar to us. Several days before we were filming a play that Otilia and people from the crossroads were performing at the City’s Museum - that's when we saw Alba arrive with her mother, Rosa. They were looking for Otilia. They needed her support, since she had just given birth to her forth child and had nowhere to live with her other three daughters. This is how they found "The Friends House". From that moment her children, Alexis, Michel, America and Venus have had a small room in which they live with their mother. Visits to "The Friends House" became more frequent and a strong relationship between its occupants and our team started to grow.
Our film starts with the moment Alba and Otilia’s paths cross. Consequently a story begins in which we witness the pursuit for a better life for her and her children, in spite of having to deal with remarkably difficult challenges.
As producers we know that Alba's story does not represent the whole reality of life on the streets. The Universe is immense and there are countless stories to tell. However, we believe that telling Alba’s story allows us to show a fragment of this reality and to reflect on the biggest challenges we face in an unequal country.
The work done by Otilia with people on the streets reflects how public union and organised society is an important alternative to rebuild a country that is so fragmented. We are extremely grateful to Otilia and Alba for allowing us to tell their story, a story that definitely marked us as filmmakers.