Undergraduate Research & Scholarships

Danielle Cosmes (2022)

Me Espera un Pueblo: Return Migration to Ancestral Homelands in Oaxaca, Mexico

The drive of this project is to collectively create a documentary film that explores the affective experiences of Oaxacan migrants who have migrated back to their hometowns in Oaxaca, Mexico after living in the United States for several years. Between the years 2005-2010, 1.4 million Mexican migrants residing in the US forcibly and voluntarily returned to Mexico. The southern state of Oaxaca, a primary return destination, holds the highest and most diverse population of Indigenous nations in Mexico, with especially strong forms of community organization locally and in diaspora. This film centers around Indigenous Oaxacan migrants’, at times contradicting, emotional experiences of return–it will explore themes of agency, human connection, ties to land and identity formation through the eyes of Oaxacan return migrants themselves. Migration is a dislodging, disorientating experience, with profound and often traumatizing effects. The pull of home and ancestry run deep. Indigenous Oaxacan migrants formed ideas/visions/fantasies/recollections of their communities of origin while being away, and their communities in return retain and often grow expectations of them for when they return. Danielle, a Oaxacan return migrant themselves, began producing this documentary film as part of their Ethnic Studies senior honors thesis and with the support of the Robert and Colleen Haas Scholars program. With the Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize, they will begin the next phase of the project by moving back home to Oaxaca, Mexico to collectively co-produce, co-direct, and co-write the remainder of the film alongside the participants who shared their testimonies in the first stage of the project. This film is grounded in the methodologies and theories of Cine Comunitario (communal filmmaking) and Border Abolition, intentionally facilitating relationship-building and long-form story-telling, as well as politically structuring individuals within community knowledges and histories–rather than in state-centered approaches–as means for Indigenous audiovisual self-representation.

Letters Home


Danielle is a filmmaker, visual artist and Ethnic Studies scholar who was raised in a family of return migrant women and femmes. Their family is from the Zapotec, Northern Highlands region of Oaxaca, Mexico. Danielle was born in the United States, and at age 8, their mother, sister, and them migrated back to Danielle’s parents’ hometown, Ixtlán de Juárez, because they were no longer safe living in the US. Danielle arrived at a place that was completely unknown to them, but one which is the land where their entire family and ancestors originated from, and where they now consider home to be. For Danielle and their family, returning implied many systemic challenges–family separation, economic vulnerability, difficulties accessing schooling, etc, on top of contradicting feelings of estrangement and reunification to their ancestral homeland. The only space their family had to speak on and make sense of their return was with each other. Returning at such a young age and growing up in Oaxaca is the most abrupt and defining experience of their life. Danielle understands this film and their work as a visual artist as their way of making sense of that return alongside other Indigenous Oaxacan returnees they found and have built relationships with through this film, and in doing so, preserving each other and themselves.  Danielle graduated with honors from UC Berkeley in Summer 2022 with a B.A. in Ethnic Studies and a minor in Portuguese language and literature.   

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