PBS is set to air The Ballad of Esequiel Hernández on July 8th, as part of the P.O.V. series. Ballad is an award-winning documentary about the 1997 murder of a young Mexican American on the U.S.-Mexico border. Hernández was assassinated by U.S. Marines who were performing their “duty” of border enforcement. This is the story of U.S. troops shooting and killing a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil.
The P.O.V. website describes the film as follows:
In 1997, U.S. Marines patrolling the Texas-Mexico border as part of the War on Drugs shot and killed Esequiel Hernández Jr. Mistaken for a drug runner, the 18-year-old was, in fact, a U.S. citizen tending his family’s goats with a .22 rifle. He became the first American killed by U.S. military forces on native soil since the 1970 Kent State shootings. “The Ballad of Esequiel Hernández,” narrated by Tommy Lee Jones, explores Hernández’s tragic death and its torturous aftermath. His parents and friends, the Marines on patrol and investigators discuss the dangers of militarizing the border and the death of one young man.
I haven’t had the chance to see the film but I have heard some talk about it. Every year for the last six, I have taught at least one class where we learn about Esequiel’s murder. For my “Chicana/o-Latina/o Histories” class, Esequiel’s murder serves to help humanize the kinds of forces at work in the recent history we discuss. I try to situate it within the broader context of the increased militarization of the border as well as the increasing dehumanization of brown bodies.
I’m sure this documentary is going to be time well-spent and a future teaching and learning tool for me and my students.