Animated Film Portrays the Story of Bill De La Rosa ’16

By Rebecca Goldfiine
Bill De La Rosa ’16 is the inspiration for a new animated short that explores the social and political forces that can pull people together or tear them apart.
Presented by Humanity in Action with the support of Foundation EVZ. Written by Bill De La Rosa and Juan Pablo de Gamboa. Produced by Judith Goldstein and Irene Braam. Co-Produced by Antje Scheidler. Directed by Juan Pablo de Gamboa.

The film is a product of a transformative conference De La Rosa attended last October. Organized by the nonprofit Humanity in Action, the virtual forum brought together ten delegates from the US and ten from Germany. For two days, the attendees spoke about the dueling global forces of "social cohesion and combustion." 

"We spoke about the most pressing problems and issues that both sides of the Atlantic are facing," De La Rosa said. "We discussed everything from racism to the attacks on democracy to class disparities."

As they concluded, the delegates spoke of creating a proposal encapsulating their vision. "In the end, we decided we didn’t want to put together some policy manual that would just sit on a shelf—we wanted to play around with the idea of putting together an animated film" that could find a bigger audience, De La Rosa said.

The animators hired to make the film suggested using De La Rosa's personal story as the hook on which to hang some of the complex ideas the delegates discussed. "They needed a narrative, a protagonist, a person who could embody a story, and that way they could weave everything else in," De La Rosa said.

Last winter, De La Rosa began writing the script for the movie, collaborating with the founder of Humanity in Action, Judith Goldstein, and the lead animator, Juan Pablo de Gamboa. All of the drawings of De La Rosa and his family, and even of their first apartment in Tucson, are based on his own photos(In one scene of De La Rosa studying at a desk, he asked the animators to draw him on Bowdoin's campus. "Bowdoin was so foundational to my journey," he said.)

When De La Rosa was a high school sophomore in Tucson, his mother went through legal channels to apply for a green card. In a shocking move, immigration officials instead barred her from reentering the United States for ten years—which meant she had to spend a decade apart from her four children and ailing husband, all of them US citizens.

De La Rosa was spurred to better understand the policies that led to the fracturing of his family. He has focused his undergraduate and graduate studies on migration, criminal justice, and criminology. "I soon learned that my family's story was not unique, it was a feature of US immigration law," he says in the film. "The separation of families was an everyday occurrence in America."

After graduating from Bowdoin with a degree in sociology and Latin American studies, De La Rosa completed two master's degrees at Oxford University and is currently working on his PhD dissertation there. His thesis explores the role that punishment has played in the development of US immigration policy. "How and for what reasons has US immigration policy become more punitive in the last three decades?" he asks. He will attend Yale Law School in 2023.

De La Rosa says he hopes the short film will be shared with students and young people, and that they embrace its messages—such as the importance of seeking racial equity, of using nonviolent tactics to effect social change, and of supporting the peaceful transfer of power and resources in democracies.

"Despite the hardships I've witnessed, I remain hopeful for a future where walls don't divide us, families aren't separated, and human rights are protected," he says in the film. "I'm ready for the next step. My life's work has just begun."