The Mexican American actor and filmmaker explains the inspiration behind his latest project.

Por Lena Hansen
Julio 24, 2020

In his short film Con Dios, Carlos Ibarra tells the story of an undocumented Latinx teenager named Pablo who dreams of becoming an architect. As his college acceptance letters begin to arrive, though, he is crushed to find out that higher education is beyond his reach without a path to citizenship. "I myself am undocumented and am in the limbo of our immigration system, and know the psychological effect that can have on people," the Mexican American actor and filmmaker tells People CHICA.

The character of Pablo was inspired by the true story of Joaquin Luna Jr., a DREAMer high school senior who died by suicide in 2011; Ibarra read Joaquin's story while doing research for the film. "When I started formulating the skeleton of the story, I knew that I wanted it to have an intense ending to really call to action and reflect what is happening to students, especially to DREAMers," says Ibarra, who is a DACA recipient himself. "I stumbled upon Joaquin's story and was able to connect with the family, specifically his brother. I talked to him about his experience and how life has been for them after this happened to Joaquin."

Carlos Ibarra
Carlos Ibarra
| Credit: Courtesy of Carlos Ibarra

Joaquin's family agreed to let Ibarra bring his story to the screen. "Their reaction was very positive," Ibarra says. "They don't want his name to disappear, they want their kid's name to live on. They don't want what Joaquin experienced to happen to others."

Reading about the high rate of suicides among Latinx youth, especially the undocumented, made Ibarra want to reflect this reality in his work. "To me that was something that I really wanted to bring to the forefront because mental health, and especially depression, is still an issue and a topic that isn't really talked about in the Latino community," he explains. "That was something I wanted to bring to light, especially as an individual that has never experienced depression at such a deep level, but [has] definitely gone through bouts of depression."

Carlos Ibarra
A still from Con Dios.
| Credit: Courtesy of Carlos Ibarra

He also tried to stay away from stereotypes. "I wanted to portray this family in a different angle, that showed a very Americanized family — a group of individuals that have assimilated and have become part of the American iconography," he says. "Some of the undocumented members of our society, we don't always portray them this way in media, and I wanted to bring that story element to this film."

The film captures the struggle of some immigrant parents to pay for higher education for their children. "It's very difficult when you are a first-time college student and you are the first person in your family to go to college," Ibarra says. "I thought that was a universal theme that would apply to many people, regardless of whether they are undocumented or not. In Con Dios, Pablo had this pressure because his older brother missed his boat to go to college. I took that from my own personal experience because my older brother went to college, but he almost didn't go."

Carlos Ibarra
A scene from Con Dios.

Ibarra wants Con Dios, which is headed to the festival circuit this year, to help other DREAMers stay hopeful. "It's easy to fall into a downward spiral and think everything is over," he says. "The biggest message is that perseverance is key. You have to be willing to ride that wave and stay positive, always know what your end goal is, so that when the challenges come, you can overcome them and go after your dream."