Mija Review: The American Dream For First-Born Immigrants Comes With Immense Pressure [Sundance 2022]

Undocumented Mexican immigrants may find joy in being able to give birth to a generation of first-born children with American citizenship. But for many of them, it's just the beginning of an even riskier affair. With the threat of deportation always looming, there's an immense amount of pressure on these first-generation Americans to live up to the potential of the American Dream in order to keep their family from being pulled apart by the government. The documentary "Mija," which translates to "my daughter," follows the hardships that come with being the first-generation American children of illegal immigrants.

Enter Doris Anahí Muñoz, a 26-year-old music manager born and raised in California to Mexican parents. Though she's started the laborious process of getting green cards for her parents, her family remains fractured because an older brother was deported. With no way of easily going back to Mexico to visit him, Doris' parents haven't seen their son in six years. Not only has Doris been using her career to follow her own dreams of building diversity and representation in the indie music scene, but she's desperately been trying to achieve her parents' dreams of earning legal status in the United States while helping support her estranged brother and his family in Tijuana.

However, Doris finds her life shaken when COVID-19 upends the musical tour of her star client, Cuco (AKA Omar Banos), and the two find themselves parting ways as collaborators. Though Doris struggles to figure out what to do next, she finds renewed hope in an up and coming musical act who she hopes will become the next big thing on the indie scene: Jacks Haupt, another first-generation American from an undocumented Mexican family, who has a hypnotizing voice like a more sultry Elle King. The result is a film that finds two young Mexican women bonding over their passion for music and their obligation to their family's sacrifice for their freedom and future.

Both Doris and Jacks find themselves working for their own career dreams and their family's well-being. But how do you embark on a career that satisfies your own aspirations while also allowing you to keep your family together? Doris has been fortunate enough to be able to afford the thousands of dollars it takes to begin the green card application process, though they're still patiently waiting for approval. Jacks, on the other hand, is nowhere near fulfilling the obligation of helping her parents in a similar fashion.

Is This the American Dream?

"Mija" filmmaker Isabel Castro smartly sought out Jacks just after Doris took a liking to her musical style and was able to spend time with the singer before she ever met her prospective manager. It helps paint a thorough portrait of what these two have in common, long before they bond through their career collaboration and ambitions. The documentary captures some of their most intimate and trying moments. 

For Jacks, there's a tense, tearful phone call that reveals the rock and a hard place that she finds herself between as she hopes to make it in the music business. At the same time, her parents in Dallas lecture and resent her for not taking advantage of the freedom they risked their lives in order to take a more practical path to employment an help them get identification cards that would allow them to have more lucrative jobs. There's a stark juxtaposition between Jacks' effortlessly cool and sexy onstage persona and the personal side of her life, reminding us that we never truly know what anyone is dealing with on the inside, despite looking incredibly put-together on the outside.

Meanwhile, Doris shows her own vulnerability and uncertainty about her future in the wake of Cuco no longer being part of her client roster. As voiceover acts as an ongoing diary that feels almost like an inner monologue, we see how dedicated she is to getting her family back together, just as they are in adorable home videos of her youngest birthday parties. Doris becomes a safe place and a source of encouragement for Jacks in the face of her own worries because she's had to deal with the same obstacles that Jacks is just now confronting. But the most emotional cornerstone for Doris comes towards the end of the film by way of a pivotal Zoom call with her parents that will bring you to tears. Whether they're tears of joy or sadness, we'll let you find out for yourself.

Though "Mija" finds a powerful emotional core between these two young women, it feels somewhat incomplete. In some ways, there's a resolution for Doris and her family, but in others, her story is still ongoing, left open-ended by the uncertain path that her new client could take her on. Because of that, Jacks has an even more truncated arc in the documentary, and her success and future (as well as her relationship with her parents) are still very much in the air. But perhaps that's the best presentation for their stories. After all, this is a journey that won't be over for either of them anytime soon.

 "Mija" tells the story of many first-generation children out there right now trying to make it. As much as the film is about Doris and Jacks, it's also about the growing struggles of the American children of undocumented immigrants in these politically heightened times. Can they ever truly live the American Dream, or will they be held back by the immigration system that always seems to move the finish line? "Mija" doesn't necessarily have an answer, but it just might contain the inspiration someone out there needs to keep forging ahead in a world that perpetually tries to keep them down.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10