WORTHINGTON - For the past year, Luis Argueta and his film crew have devoted most of their time and effort to a project that had a working title of “Abuelos y Nietos Juntos: Two Generations Together.”

At the documentary’s premiere Friday night at the Worthington Event Center, Argueta finally revealed the film’s new - and much shorter - name: “Abrazos.” Abrazo, in Spanish, means “embrace.”

The subtitle of the project, which documents the July 2013 journey of 14 American-born children of Guatemalan ancestry to visit their grandparents and other relatives back in their parents’ homeland, is “A Journey in Search of One’s Identity.” All the children featured in the film live in Worthington.

The embrace theme was woven throughout the project, explained Argueta, beginning with how the concept of Abuelos y Nietos Juntos, now just called Familias Juntas (Families Together), started.

Lisa Kremer, who was then working at the St. Mary’s parish in Worthington, was planning a trip to Guatemala, and an immigrant friend asked her to visit her parents and give them a hug from her. Kremer realized that while many of the Guatemalan immigrants aren’t able to go back and visit their families due to documentation issues, their American-born children could. By making connections, cutting through red tape and fundraising, Kremer made that dream a reality, and Argueta and his crew filmed the experience.

“Abrazo is also an action that can only be done in peace,” further explained Argueta in introducing the film, “and it is something that gives a lot of comfort to both parties. Through the kids who went to Guatemala, the parents sent abrazos.”

Scenes in the film include one of the children’s parents in Worthington saying, “Even though I wasn’t there, I felt it when they embraced,” about his parents hugging their grandchildren. And one of the grandparents in Guatemala says, “I felt like I was hugging my daughter when I hugged my grandchild.” 

“We as a nation need to embrace our immigrant brothers and sisters and embrace the diversity of our nation,” continued Argueta. “I want to dedicate the film, especially, to the kids. What you kids have done by sharing your story with those of us here and with the world is important, and you should never be afraid to show your emotions. … You are the bridge between your family here and in Guatemala, between the two countries.”

That bridge concept was another theme of the evening, and many speakers admired the bravery of the children and their families in making the journey and agreeing to be filmed.

“These children are really the stars tonight,” stressed Kremer at the beginning of the evening. “Throughout our journey and preparations, they were courteous, kind, compassionate and just very well behaved. And they were so honest and open about their experiences. I think they have grown up throughout the last year. They have experienced things that kids their age don’t usually experience.”

After the film was shown on two large screens, several people addressed the assembly, including Mauricio, the father of Elian, one of the children who made the journey to Guatemala. Since Elian visited his family, Mauricio’s father died in an accident.

“It is a great joy to be united with you here tonight, with all our American brothers who are here, who paid attention and took the time to view this movie,” said Mauricio through an interpreter. “I wasn’t able to go there and see my father, but through my son I sent him a hug. … May this feeling not only be a moment of now, but continue, and may God bless you.”

In closing the formal part of the festivities, David Vasquez, a campus pastor at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, compared the movie to the biblical story of Exodus, in which Moses’ mother brings her baby to the river and sets him afloat in the hope of giving him a better life.

“To let go of a child is very difficult,” he said. “But Moses’ mother finally let go because she could trust, in faith, that there was a larger purpose for him, because he was going to be the bridge to bring these people out of slavery to freedom.

“... As these kids grow up, it will be through them that we will walk across a bridge to justice and freedom.”

The gala evening also included a red carpet entrance and introduction of the film’s key players, traditional dance performed by local children of Guatemalan ancestry, music, food and a silent auction. Another Familias Juntas trip to Guatemala is set for July, with 13 children participating.

For more information on the documentary, go to abrazosthefilm.com.

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Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers may be reached at 376-7327.