PST, THIRD COAST IS BACK THIS FALL — in a new, virtual world. Join us for much-needed audio community & inspiration in: Third Place.

BEHIND THE SCENES with Catrin Einhorn and Linda Lutton


Where did the idea for this documentary originate

Linda has been based in Mexico since 2005. The documentary grew out of her experiences living and reporting from towns in Michoacan, where she encountered the issue of family separation no matter what topic she was reporting on. An issue that seemed almost invisible in the U.S. was painfully evident in Mexico

How difficult was it to find a couple willing to share their stories, and were any subjects off-limits

It was extremely difficult to find a couple in which both partners were willing to share their experiences, and who lived in close enough proximity to us, respectively. Along the way, Catrin met men who were willing to participate, but their families lived far from Linda's base in Michoacan. And Linda found towns full of women whose husbands were in the U.S., but not necessarily in the Chicago area. Regular calls to community leaders asking for help in directing us to a family did not work. Additionally, heightened fear of immigration raids made the undocumented very reluctant to speak with us. It took us months to find Francisco and Rocio. Eventually we decided to focus our "recruiting" efforts on two communities that we knew to be connected: the suburb of Rolling Meadows, Illinois, and the town of Quiringüicharo, Michoacán. In the end, Catrin found Francisco by literally knocking on doors, cold, in an apartment complex where we knew that many from Quiringüicharo settled. A neighbor mentioned his name and told Catrin where he worked. Catrin drove over and left him a note. When they met, he said he would ask his wife about participating; by the time he spoke to her about it, Linda had already stumbled upon Rocio separately as she went door to door meeting women in Quiringüicharo. Linda hooked up with a journalism student from Quiringüicharo who assisted in finding families. Her reporting assistance opened many doors. Once we pieced together the basic details of Francisco and Rocio's story, we knew they would be a good couple on which to hang the narrative. But we ran into other problems, especially when we butted into traditional gender roles. In much of provincial Mexico, especially small towns like Quiringüicharo, it's inappropriate for a lone woman to be hanging out with men. Francisco never invited Catrin into his apartment (though he did invite her to social gatherings that involved men and women -- for example, a soccer game). In the end, Catrin was able to spend some time in the apartment, but her presence there made Francisco and his roommates visibly uncomfortable. Furthermore, we needed answers to questions that involved deeply personal matters, such as spousal relationships, family resentments and infidelity -- and this from a couple whose relationship was already strained by the very issue we were examining. We got some information off the record; while we could not include it, that knowledge informed our reporting. In general, though, we did ask intimate questions, with curiosity and empathy ("Do you get jealous?" and "It must be hard to go so long without seeing each other"), and we got answers

How did you work together over the course of reporting the documentary, to ensure that the stories of husband and wife would sync up when it came to writing/production

We spoke often by telephone, comparing notes and exchanging questions we had for the other spouse. In a typical conversation, one of us would tell the other some newly learned detail. That would then spark new questions for the other spouse

We wanted to tape a phone conversation on both ends, but Francisco was uncomfortable with that, so Linda taped a call from Quiringüicharo. We also spent one day, Francisco and Rocio's 19th anniversary, taping simultaneously from about 5:30 in the morning until after 11 PM -- Linda following Rocio in Quiringüicharo and Catrin with Francisco in suburban Chicago

Did either of you visit with the spouse you weren't following? What impact did this having on the telling of the documentary

Neither of us has met the other spouse. In some ways, this restriction put us in a situation very similar to the one the families live out -- where distance affects what you can know about the other person. Linda's understanding of Francisco was shaped by the family's description of him and by Catrin's descriptions. The same is true for Catrin's understanding of Rocio and the children. By the end of the reporting, we really identified with the spouse we each followed. We became almost like advocates for our particular spouse -- and argued to have his/her perspective represented in the final story. There were times when Rocio's and Francisco's stories didn't match up. For instance, Francisco remembers returning to Quiringüicharo around 14 times. Rocio remembers him returning five times. The truth -- which we calculated by figuring out exactly when certain trips were made -- lies somewhere between the two perceptions. These differences in perception can exist in any relationship, but they get amplified when you live 2,000 miles apart and only see each other every couple years

The way you handle the translations is artful and comes off sounding almost effortless. What was the thinking that went into your approach and did you try other methods that didn't work as well

There is not a single piece of English-language tape in this half-hour documentary. We knew that we needed listeners to connect with our main characters, Francisco and Rocio, but we also knew that listeners would never really "hear" Francisco and Rocio -- they'd be hearing translators. We decided early on to audition bilingual actors or the translations. We called Latino theater companies and auditioned about a dozen actors over the phone before choosing Rocio and Francisco's translators. It was our hope that actors would be able to replicate the tone and emotion of what was being said, and we wanted listeners to really connect to the translators. To assist in that connection, we left very little Spanish at the beginning and end of the quotes. In a couple of cases where the opportunity presented itself (mostly because the dialogue consisted of very short phrases), we allowed the original sound to come up and created an interplay between the translators and the original voices. (One example of this is when Rocio is waiting for the phone call from Francisco on their 19th wedding anniversary.) We did this rather spontaneously -- it felt beautiful and we left it

It's such a sad story, did you find that the money earned in America brought the family any happiness

We found that the money earned in America brought the family peace of mind, in the sense that they didn't have to worry about how to pay for Paco to go to high school or medical bills for Francisco's mother. It also made Francisco feel a sense of accomplishment because he was a good provider for his family. But even after years apart, I don't think that Rocio, Francisco, or the children would say they are "happy." We found that families caught up in this way of life face a very confusing mix of emotions. They've grown accustomed to living this way. But they never give up on the idea of someday being together, so they live with a constant sense of absence or even grief -- a sense that they're not whole. We thought that these contradicting emotions really came through in the section about the family's house. On the one hand, the house gives Rocio lots of happiness -- it's beautiful, and she really loves it. On the other hand, she can't stand to live there. Her happiness is constantly tainted with the pain of separation

Finally, Catrin you've mentioned how difficult it was to produced this documentary -- is there any one decision or challenge that stands above the rest in producing the program

The hardest decision was how to best tell the story of family separation. In addition to Francisco and Rocio, we interviewed dozens of other men and women living apart, many with incredibly compelling stories. Early on, we played with the idea of structuring the narrative around the village instead of a single couple, but we decided that going deeper with one family would create more emotional resonance. Still, some of the other men and women spoke to important issues that were absent from Francisco and Rocio's story, and we struggled to include them in the script, rewriting it over and over to try to knit them in

Ultimately, we cut all but one outside story, both for time and because we decided that the additional voices confused the story of Francisco and Rocio. Instead, we worked many of these additional voices into a collage that was offered as a Web extra. Still, we regret the absence of some these characters: for example, we taped a woman in suburban Chicago who, after living for some time in Mexico without her husband, refused to continue living apart. She left her young children with her mother, crossed the desert with a coyote, and then had her children smuggled in on a plane with fake documents. This is a common experience that speaks to another option for families. We strove to include it, but in the end, at the urging of our editor and several colleagues, we made the painful decision to cut it. Maybe that's Part Two

Another production challenge involved the voicing of this story. We wanted both reporters' voices to be heard, though we didn't really have a good example of what that would sound like. We played line by line with different options until finally settling on the read we recorded. In the end, we hoped that the two reporters' voices would add to the story by underlining the physical distance between Rocio and Francisco.