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a documentary by
Woven from footage collected over a quarter of a century, ROCIO is the story of a mother's love and the American Dream.
When doting mother of three Rocio is suddenly diagnosed with terminal kidney cancer, her son Dario takes a leave of absence from Harvard College to come home and take care of her. Their battle against the disease leads them into the world of alternative medicine, where they find hope shimmering at a clinic across the border.
The catch: Pursuing this last chance at survival might mean giving up everything they've ever worked for.
About the Director
Dario Guerrero, creator of the new documentary ROCIO, is an undocumented Harvard graduate. His story first received national attention in September 2014 when he published an essay in the Washington Post titled "I told Harvard I was an undocumented immigrant. They gave me a full scholarship."
Following up on this story, a Telemundo news crew reached out to Dario and found him living in his grandmother's home, some 3,000 miles away from school in the crime-ridden, massive slums of Nezahualcoyotl just outside Mexico City. Dario's story again made national headlines, this time under the guise of "Harvard student took his dying mom to Mexico, now he's not allowed to leave." This is the subject matter of the present film. This is the story of ROCIO.
Dario also co-directed 2013's A Dream Deferred with college roommate Alex Boota, a documentary following several undocumented Harvard students as they apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Funded by the Harvard Law Documentary Studio, it was a Regional Finalist in the Student Academy Awards.
"Dario created a film in which history and everyday life, the political and the personal, the extraordinary and the ordinary, seem to be folded into each other, and where everything lies in the almost imperceptible shifts between them."
Was any of your footage staged?
Everything was staged for the camera. The presence of the camera invariably alters the situation, so it's impossible for me to capture something in its natural state. Not that I would have wanted to anyways, because my subjects and I have been consciously making a movie since day one. This being the case, there was constant interaction between subject and cinematographer during shooting. The home movies were found in the state you now see them.
What was your emotional connection to your mother as you were growing up?
I realized after she died that I never really knew my mom as anything besides my mom. She cooked our meals, took me to school, took me and my siblings out on the weekends, taught us how to have fun. Most of the time she was just a presence in our home to me, albeit an intensely loving one. Our relationship was give and take - she gave, I took. I absolutely loved her, but I rarely really experienced her company as a person. I was always stuck in my head, in my books, in my homework, preoccupied with me. I regret that.
How was the decision made to withhold true diagnosis from your mother?
Since my dad speaks better English than my mom, he was the point man for medical affairs when I wasn't there. He called me one night in October 2013 when I was still at school and told me the tumor in my mom's kidney was cancerous and stage four. He said he didn't want to tell her so as not to frighten her. I took it as an order for me too. I told my brother in February and my sister in March. I told my mom in March too, when I decided she was at a point where it would encourage rather than hinder her recovery.
How did you feel about having to drop out of college in order to take care of your mother?
I knew I would hate myself forever if she died and I had not done everything in my power for her.
What was your experience of the "new age" cancer treatment facility your mother stayed in? The director? The staff?
I thought it was heaven. It was everything we tried to do at home, but perfected. I took comfort in the fact that there were only (presumably) wealthy and (presumably) educated white people staying with us. I believed we had to be onto something special if we all arrived there through independent research. Unlike the doctors back home, the staff and director made an effort to educate (with talks, books, tutorials, online sources) us about the how and why of the treatment. After she died I found it difficult to justify having spent $15,000 for 3 weeks, and that at times the treatment really did felt sold to us. Not that the medical racket being run in the States is any better, but it's still frustrating.
The final days of your mother's life - were you with her when she died? How long was she in hospice treatment?
We left the clinic in late July - defeated. My mom was tired of the treatment, tired of diet, tired of everything. We went straight to Moroleon. She lived for about three weeks. Our plan was to pursue anything available. We even tried a shaman. At some point I transitioned from still having hope to hoping for the end. She was at home until the very end. I was with her most of the time, changing, feeding, comforting her. Her sister-in-laws bathed her. Every morning I looked up the signs of death and hoped more would manifest quickly.
What did you have to do to get back into the US?
A few days after she died, when I was in Mexico City with my father's family, I called my Resident Dean at school. I explained the situation and he relayed my story to a senator, a congressman, and Harvard's Office of Federal Relations in Washington. I got a lawyer to work on my case pro-bono through a friend back home, and they all got in touch. I wrote several letters explaining why I left the United States, provided evidence of kinship between my mom and I, and her death certificate and translation. The first application was rejected. The second was approved minutes after the AP published a story on me. I had to fly to the US Consulate in Tijuana to do an immigration interview and get a travel document.
How did you feel about being at the center of an international news story?
Amazing. Amidst my crumbling world, it felt good to be cared about, even if the compassion was sometimes feigned. I saw the media as a tool for me to get back, to make my film more interesting. It was fascinating reading people's (sometimes scathing) opinions about me and my story.
Looking back now, what are your feelings about the whole ordeal?
I used to feel like this ordeal had broken me and my family. Now I know it was a rebirth.