Ligiah Villalobos: Educating Lost People of Mexican Descent through the Medium of Film

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Editor’s note: Lookout’s high school journalism challenge invited students to write a profile of an unsung hero who is making a positive difference in our community, inspired by our popular “Unsung Santa Cruz” series. This student participated in his class at Diamond Technology Institute.

A mother and son, hundreds of miles apart, physically separated by the US/Mexico border, yet share a bond breakable by nothing; this is a story that writer Ligiah Villalobos had a chance to represent in the movie La Misma Luna, or Under the Same Moon.

Villalobos began work on the script back in the year 2000, the beginning of a six-year period of time sitting on a shelf and an almost eight-year push to get the film made. When asked about the inspiration which prompted the creation of the film, she responded,“Well, I actually wanted to tell a story about the displacement of children, as the result of parents having to come and live here to provide a better life for them. So it’s not really a ‘crossing the border’ story, and it’s not even really an illegal immigrant story; it’s more about the emotional tug-of-war that children and parents deal with as the result of the decision they have to make to come and live in this country.

When watching the movie, some scenes feel very close to reality, and it turns out that Villalobos had written a few of her own experiences into the story. La Misma Luna is the story of a son living in Mexico with his grandmother, and his mother cleaning houses in Los Angeles to make a better life for her and her son. However, an unseen tragedy forces her son on a perilous journey across the border to find her.

She had structured it around the theme of abandonment she believes all of us have felt, such as a single-parent household, the loss of a friend, or a relationship that has broken up. In her case, it was her parents’ divorce she experienced at a very young age. She realized that these themes of abandonment could really be explored in the world of these immigrants, as they are forced to make hard choices out of necessity. She says it was a combination of telling a human story about an issue and exploring how children would feel about a decision such as that.

During 2023’s Watsonville Film Festival, Villalobos expresses her disbelief to find that it had been about fourteen years since she had worked on La Misma Luna. Her entire film has just been screened in the Mello Center to an almost entirely Hispanic audience, and it has left plenty of people with a lot on their mind. She picks out a couple of audience members to respond to what they had to say. The first question came from a woman in the audience, asking about Villalobos’ experience writing the script for this movie:

It was twenty-two years ago. The script was actually written in 2000, and then the movie got released in 2008, so it was an eight-year trajectory to get the movie made. I’ve also done dozens of rewrites of the script. Dozens of rewrites. So the first draft -- the one that was done in 2000 -- was like two drafts, and after that, once I got Patricia involved, who is the director of the film, I received many, many notes from her and also from the producer. At one point we were with a studio, so I was getting notes from them as well, so it was about a dozen rewrites.

Another woman asks Villalobos if there were points during production when she considered dropping the project, to which she responded, “Through the entire time. Because, you know, it’s your baby and it’s your character and it’s your story, and so when somebody else comes in and tells you to change things, it’s always very personal and it can be very emotional. But at the end of the day, if you have a good director who understands what you’re trying to do -- really, all they want to do is make the movie better. And so, you realize that’s what the notes are about, and you try to address them as well as you possibly can.

Villalobos later expresses her concerns over the hardships Mexicans face crossing the border. It has been fourteen years since La Misma Luna released -- fourteen years this movie has been available for people to watch, to learn things from the story -- yet the problem of children illegally crossing over to the US by themselves has only escalated. She has hope, however; she sees more people are pushing back against these injustices and have their works of art seen by everyone. Educating people about stories that happen to human beings, educating a whole group and reconnecting them to their ethnic roots.

Ligiah Villalobos has done that with La Misma Luna -- A mother and son, hundreds of miles apart, physically separated by the US-/Mexico border, yet share a bond breakable by nothing.