In his first job after Colby, Posse scholar Antonio Mendez ’06 was disappointed. Teaching elementary school in Newark, N.J., he was assigned to a classroom where attendance dwindled by the day in a school where staff morale was, in his view, rock bottom.
Disillusioned, Mendez decided he still wanted to help kids, just in another way, somewhere else.
As if on cue, Mendez’s former career advisor at the Posse Foundation alerted him that a new position was opening up at Posse’s New York City office. Out of an applicant pool of nearly 30, Mendez was awarded the position. “I’m still working almost one-hundred percent with students,” he said, as he walked down the bright, spacious halls of Posse’s Wall Street offices, “but I am in a place where everyone loves their job.”
The Posse Foundation, which recruits and trains students from public schools in six major cities for enrollment in top tier universities and colleges (including Colby), was what originally helped land Mendez on Mayflower Hill. Now, as a trainer, Mendez helps recruit, indentify, and train a select group of New York City Public School students to be able to meet all the obstacles they’re going to face on campus. Last year, Mendez trained students headed to Brandeis University and Dickinson College. Now he’s working on a pilot science program with Brandeis.
“The point is to train them to be strong individuals, but also to have familiar, understanding people to help [them] when issues arise,” he said.
In a way, Mendez transferred this idea to his other pursuits. With a fresh Colby degree in theater and dance and American studies, Mendez issued himself a challenge when he returned to New York City: “I had an idea about making a documentary about Dominican immigrants to the U.S., but I wanted to see if I could make it on my own.”
Instead of penning the idea and shopping it to filmmakers, Mendez bought a camera and some filmmaking software, starting his own de facto production company. Ironically, doing it “on his own” meant being even more reliant on other people, most importantly, his family. The documentary is strongly rooted in the experiences of Mendez’s family members, many of whom emigrated to New York City from the Dominican Republic. “I wanted to know if my family’s experience was an exception or a rule; there’s a lot I wanted to find out about my family.”
Mendez named the documentary “Visa for a Dream,” the translated title of “Visa Para Un Sueño,” a popular song by Dominican balladeer Juan Luis Guerra. The film explores the roles of the U.S. and Dominican governments in immigration and how their policies affect immigrants. It weaves interviews of various officials, including a U.S. assistant attorney general to the Dominican Republic, a prison reform advocate from the Dominican Republic, sociologists, and others with interviews with Mendez’s family and friends.
“The Dominican government was very supportive of the documentary and really wanted to tell their story,” Mendez said. Mendez also visited Dominican prisons to uncover the story
of Dominican immigrants deported from the United States.
The intriguing mix of personal and political issues in the documentary drew interest from the Tribeca Film Festival, although Mendez was not able to make the winter deadline.
In the end Mendez describes his work with Posse and his documentary making in much the same way. “The reason I’m doing [the movie] is about family unity,” he said. “We have come very far. With Posse, it’s all about bringing these students together, so they will be strong and can achieve anything.”
—Brendan Sullivan ’06