Pictured clockwise from the top: SkillsUSA advisor Noube Rateau, Erick Hernandez, Amari Gaston and Edward Cuevas.
When Emmy award-winning director and SkillsUSA advisor Noube Rateau was seeking an idea for a new social-issue documentary a few years ago, he didn’t have to look far for his subject matter. The TV Production instructor at Lynn (Mass.) Vocational Technical Institute (LVTI) stood in his classroom and recognized the incredibly powerful stories of his own students related to the subject of immigration.
“I Am You — Immigration in America” was born from those stories, and it’s described by Rateau as “a documentary that will take an objective look at all aspects of immigration.” As for the title, Rateau explains the choice by saying, “Despite the differences between people, we all share the same goals. Whether you’re an immigrant from Haiti or a kid from Chicago, everyone wants the pursuit of happiness.”
Rateau founded Noube Productions in 2009 to focus on educating the community on real-life situations that may confront inner-city youth and how to intellectually solve problems. He has now directed five award-winning documentaries that have received first-place honors from various national film festivals. That success helped him obtain a grant to create “I Am You,” which was released to critical acclaim in 2022. The grant also allowed Rateau to pay several of his former SkillsUSA students to work on the project. One of those students was Erick Hernandez, who helped both behind and in front of the cameras.
In the film, Hernandez shares his challenges as a “DREAMer,” a term for an undocumented child brought to the U.S. by his parents. (The “DREAM” portion of the term stands for the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, designed to help undocumented young immigrants qualify for things like a driver’s license, the right to work and more.) He describes trying to fit into a culture he didn’t fully understand and the feelings of worry that often accompanied that effort. “A siren can cause you anxiety because you don’t know if they are coming for you,” he says. “I can’t apply for federal student aid, so I knew I would have no financial support to continue with school.”
Now 21, Hernandez is still finding his place in the world, but he’s making progress. “Currently I’m working fulltime,” he says, “but I am also in communication with a group called ‘TheDream.Us’ trying to apply and prepare for a scholarship process specifically for DREAMers that would allow me to attend college.”
“Being part of the documentary made me feel more comfortable with myself,” Hernandez adds. “When you are in my situation, you often feel alone, like you are the only one going through it. Hearing other people’s stories made me realize there are many others with the same issues and challenges.” A quiet young man (SkillsUSA Massachusetts once named him “member of the month” for his “quiet and compassionate leadership”), Hernandez sums up his personal story and the documentary experience in a few measured words: “At the end of the day, I am just like you.”
Rateau and his student crew (which also included Amari Gaston and Edward Ceuvas) launched a screening tour of the film in 2022, which included a showing at SkillsUSA’s National Leadership & Skills Conference (NLSC) in Atlanta. There, they showed and discussed the film as part of SkillsUSA University, a program held in conjunction with the NLSC that offers a variety of seminars and demonstrations for attendees.
Watch the trailer for “I Am You” below.