Tag Archives: Immigration

Don’t Tell Anyone (No Le Digas a Nadie)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 75 min

This documentary, directed by Mikaela Shwer, tells the story of Angy Rivera, a young undocumented woman living in New York City with her family. Rivera (who was born in Colombia) and her mother both are undocumented, but her two younger brothers are citizens, having been born in the United States.

This divide is just one of many featured in the film. Don’t Tell Anyone features a number of conflicts between generations, political philosophies, and internal dialogues. Although the film is mostly told from a third person perspective, with its subjects in front of the camera, the film occasionally pulls the viewer into a pseudo-first person perspective through the insertion of home videos and webcam clips of the documentary’s subjects.

The focus of the film ultimately is the immigration status of its main subject, Angy Rivera. Using creative media like the standard interview, amateur video, and animation, Shwer creates a retrospective, showing how being undocumented has affected the actions and the mindsets of the family. The first, and perhaps most obvious side effect of being undocumented is the stigmatization that being “illegal” carries. This is where the title comes from – growing up, Angy was told by her mother never to tell anyone that she was undocumented. But the presence of this stigma becomes the most inspiring rallying cry for Angy (and therefore the viewer). In order to break the stigma, the audience is shown how Angy has sought to reach out to her community and unite. She has an advice column, speaks at community events, and participates in rallies, in which she and others “come out” as undocumented. Naturally, this worries her mother.

The most compelling part of the movie, however, comes later, when the retrospective ends and a different mode of storytelling begins. We experience what Angy experiences, negotiating life as an undocumented student trying to afford college tuition. Then, when Angy learns she may be eligible for a special visa because of a sexual assault committed against her, we experience the same mixed emotions of celebrating a path to citizenship while also questioning a system that only treats undocumented immigrants as people if they are victims of a crime. As she waits, we wait, hoping that she gets her little slice of a government-sanctioned American Dream.

In spite of a happy ending for Angy—she gets her visa—a visit to a rally for undocumented immigrants ultimately reminds us that Angy Rivera is just one in a huge sea of undocumented people, making the ending bittersweet. More importantly, however, this marks a call for social awareness: undocumented immigrants are here and deserve fulfilling, safe lives.


Bibliographic items:



Don’t Tell Anyone / No le digas a nadie

Running Time: 75 min


Don’t Tell Anyone follows the story of undocumented immigrant Angy Rivera and her family as she comes out to the public as undocumented.  Against the wishes of her mother, who is also undocumented, Angy proudly displays this part of her identity while helping other undocumented immigrants deal with life and the issues that arise.  As she faces the challenges of being undocumented in America, Angy also admits to the public that from the ages of 4-8 she had been a victim of sexual violence from her step-father, adding another layer to the adversity she experiences in life.  The audience sees that Angy is not just defined by the label of “undocumented” or “victim,” but is rather a fully complex human being.

This humanizing of Angy is key to the message of the documentary.  Don’t Tell Anyone is a very personal story about Angry, her family, and the challenges they face in life.  A majority of the scenes we see are direct interviews with the Rivera family and shots of them living everyday life.  The documentary does not portray them as simply statistics; rather, they are deeply humanized and relatable.  We see that the Rivera family is just as human as any other family with lives full of complications, excitement, and love.  The viewer can’t help but feel empathy for Angy and her family, and their message is heard.

Sa-I-Gu (Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, 1993)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 36 min

Format: Color, DVD (NTSC)

Distributor: Center for Asian American Media

Sa-I-Gu, literally translated in Korean as April 29 is the day of the 1992 Los Angeles riot following the trial of Rodney King. Three months after Sa-I-Gu, the documentary explores the experience of the Korean American women who was “caught” in the LA crisis. The documentary tells the story of the mother of Edward Jae Song Lee, the only Korean who died during the riot, along with interviews of Korean American women. These accounts portray the financial, psychological, and personal losses of the community, and their American dreams turned upside down.

Women express their mistrust, frustration, confusion, and disappointment towards African-Americans and the U.S. government in the aftermath of Sa-I-Gu. The documentary attend to what Korean women interpret as the cause of Sa-I-Gu: the media’s biased focus on Black and Korean conflict, gap between the rich and the poor, and the failure of the LA police and the government to react. The documentary also portrays how these women are coping with the lingering battle against the government for compensation, providing a ground for a reexamination of the real content of the American dream.

The documentary fills in a void in the media coverage that neglected to present an accurate representation of the experience of the Korean community. Dai Sil Kim-Gibson says that they produced the documentary “to give voice to the voiceless victims i.e. Korean American shopkeepers and shop owners who lost everything during the Los Angeles upheaval.” By portraying their experience in human terms with great honesty, the documentary provides a more complete picture of the LA crisis.

The documentary was showcased as P.O.V series on National PBS Broadcast at the time of its release. It received the Bronze Plaque Award at the Columbus International Film and Video Festival as well as the Bronze Award at the Houston International Film Festival and the Rosebud Award from Washington, DC.

Descriptors: Korean American, race relations, Los Angeles Riot, Immigration

For further information:

On the Film:

On the L.A. Riot and its impact on Korean American:

  • Abelmann, Nancy. Lie, John. Blue Dreams: Korean Americans and the Los Angeles Riots. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1997

On the Director: