(This story originally appeared in Vivala)
Five years ago, Angy Rivera decided to “come out” as undocumented. Her immigration status was a secret she held since she was just 3 years old. The Colombian-born Rivera stood in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office in Manhattan wearing a big white t-shirt with the word “UNDOCUMENTED” spray-painted on it in bright red.
“It definitely meant speaking out for myself,” the now 25-year-old told Vivala. “It meant taking charge of my life, of my well-being.”
Rivera’s personal journey and fight for justice is at the center of the new PBS documentary Don’t Tell Anyone (No Le Digas a Nadie). Directed by filmmaker Mikaela Shwer, the film is premiering nationally as part of the POV series Sept. 21at 10 p.m. (check local listings) and will stream online from Sept. 22–Oct. 21, 2015.
Told through a blend of candid interviews with Rivera and her mother, Maria Yolanda Rivera, as well as illustrations and footage by Rivera herself, the documentary details Rivera’s life as an undocumented immigrant. It chronicles her fight for rights and her history of sexual assault.
“There wasn’t much conversation on sexual assault in the immigrant community and not too many films show immigrant moms,” Rivera said. “Some of them make me feel sad at the end. You don’t feel like you’re rooting for the parents – you kind of blame them for the situation their family is in. I wanted to make sure that people felt like they weren’t alone.”
Shwer first heard of Rivera in 2012 through a New York Magazine article on Ask Angy, the country’s first undocumented youth advice column and a labor of love created by Rivera. “I was struck by Angy herself. It felt really brave and really incredible that she was doing this advice column,” the filmmaker said. “It was bringing up a lot of points that people don’t really think about in terms of the day-to-day life.”
Rivera and Shwer met and pieced together the film over the next two years. Don’t Tell Anyone shows Rivera’s involvement in the New York State Youth Leadership Council, the first and only undocumented youth led organization in New York. Viewers also get a glimpse into Rivera’s life with her mixed-status family; Rivera has three younger siblings who were born in the U.S.
The most difficult scene is when Rivera recalls being sexually abused by her stepfather from the ages of 4 to 8. This piece of her past later makes her and her mother eligible for the U visa, set aside for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse.
“I knew from the beginning that I was going to feel angry, and sad… and hurt,” an emotional Rivera tells her counselor in one scene after receiving the visa. “I have to look at this and think about everything… that’s the only way they’re going to recognize me here.”
Shwer said the film’s message is especially crucial as the country gears into the next election cycle. “Remember the people that are actually affected by this battle… remember that there’s consequences for real people and getting to know Angy puts a little bit of a face on that,” she said.
Rivera said her hope is that those who are undocumented don’t feel like their experiences don’t matter. “I would also want people to think about the immigration rights movement as more than just getting papers. Getting your papers doesn’t necessarily erase all the things that you experienced,” she said. “It just doesn’t change your whole life. You’re still going to be a woman, a woman of color… you’re still going to have all your other identities