Interview With The Director
Jacquelyn Aluotto campaigns against poverty in New York, and since birth, she has learned to have compassion and give herself completely to the less fortunate.
With both hands on the steering wheel on her way to work, her knuckles gripped more tightly as she heard on the radio a segment about homeless children; those that walk a life plagued by uncertainty–What will I eat? Where will I sleep? Will I go to school?–when all these questions should be certainties.
Jacquelyn Aluotto continued driving until she arrived at the Irish pub where she works as a waitress and shared with her coworkers what she had heard. “I was really mad. How is it possible that in New York, a city of indulgence and abundance, there still are kids who are hungry and without a safe place to live?”
To her surprise, her indignation did not receive the response she expected. “They said: ‘Well, it’s inevitable. Poverty, corruption, they have all been here a long time, they’re deeply rooted.’ But what if we had been so conformist with slavery?” she reflected.
Daughter of "free-spirited" parents, she tells about how they taught her since birth to be compassionate and give to the less fortunate. Jacquelyn, now 36, has always found it necessary to have close ties with contemporary social plagues.
“I started as a young girl volunteering at the Covenant House at 41st street. Soon after, I became interested in battered women, victims of domestic violence, and places that provided support. Today, I am familiar with shelters, soup kitchens and safe havens in the area and in New Jersey, even Detroit and Texas, but it is impossible to know them all.”
Perhaps that is why the words coming from the radio strongly resonated with her; because she knows those kids. “A lot of women that flee from the beatings are mothers that take their children along the ambulant road with them because they don’t want their daughters growing up with the idea that all men are violent and spit and stomp or have their sons repeat the actions of their fathers. So they find refuge and help centers.”
After multiple visits and conversations with these women in places like Strengthen our Sisters in Passaic, NJ and underground shelters, and after devouring two particular books titled Filmmaking for dummies and Rebel without a Crew, the documentary that Jacquelyn filmed emerged despite her inexperience with a camera.
The film Not in My Backyard or NIMBY, gave way to a series titled The NIMBY Experience. “Basically it’s the same concept: for there to be no abuse, violence or people without a home in our own backyards,” she explains.
“The only thing that was clear to me was that these women and their children had trusted me and I could not let them down. I had the responsibility of telling their stories and do it well.”
However, the most significant change came from a question she asked herself, determined to involve a much broader audience in the eradication of the problems presented. “I asked myself, ‘what is it that captures our interest?’ ‘Glamour, beauty, youth and fame.’ That’s when I knew that alongside the glamour, the beauty, the youth and the famous I could find a way to give an attractive face to all those topics that are somber and sad.”
The first celebrity to sign up for the project was Puerto Rican-born Luis Guzmán, who recently starred in How to Make it in America. “He saw my documentary and loved it. In fact, he was an activist and social worker before becoming an actor and had similar convictions.
One day he asked, ‘Jac, what if I become homeless on the streets of New York?”
For three days, though accustomed to being showered with affection of fans and admirers, the actor became invisible. “It seems that people find it uncomfortable to look at a homeless person in the eyes. We made Luis sit close to the Metropolitan Museum, for example, where daily thousands of people walk by and yet only a few stopped by to acknowledge or gave him some money,” stated Jacquelyn, who directed the 45-minute film. Unrecognizable, Guzmán walked almost every neighborhood in Manhattan, slept outside, and stayed at some shelters like The Bowery Mission. He truly became homeless.
“I liked the way in which The Bowery functions,” she explained, “because anyone who needs help can simply walk in there anytime and will always be given a place. The majority of shelters functions like a bureaucracy and so one must call in advance to make a reservation, though not everyone may qualify. It's the widespread perception that those who are homeless are on the streets because it’s their choice and that it’s easy, but there is nothing more degrading than becoming invisible in the eyes of our peers.”
A celebrity who dares to confront the police without her documentation; an actor without health insurance who tries to be treated at a hospital; a famous couple who kiss in public and encounter the discrimination so commonly faced by many for their sexual identity. “This,” Jacquelyn affirms, “has just begun and it will only end when we can finally say with pride that none of this happens in our backyard.”
by: SILVINA STERIN PENSEL | Interview on July 22, 2012
Special for El Diario La Prensa (EDLP)
Translation: PATRICIA FERNANDEZ, JUDITH WAKAMATZU