Prodigal Daughter tells the story of a filmmaker’s reconciliation with her Peruvian family after sixteen years as an undocumented immigrant in California.
Fleeing Peru in the 1990’s to escape political persecution, Mabel Valdiviezo endures traumatizing experiences and cultural isolation while her family suffers at home.
Years later, about to become a U.S. citizen, Mabel seeks to reunite with her parents while battling a life threatening illness.
Please tell me a favorite story about your childhood? What positive life principle did you learn from your parents/caregivers - that still informs your life today?
When I was little my parents used to take me and my younger siblings to the countryside. I’ve always cherished these moments, that my parents made time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life in union with their children. My mom and my grandma both used to tell amazing stories about our ancestors and our roots in the north of Peru. These stories have always stayed with me and gave me the inspiration to become a storyteller through film and art.
Was there anything in your past that caused you pain, struggle or hardship?
I have gone through several difficult situations in my lifetime. The first incident that changed me forever was being molested as a child by a worker who was helping my parents build our home. I was only six and I ended up keeping it a secret, not knowing how to deal with it by myself. I didn’t tell anyone until I was in my 30s. My parents only found out about this a few years ago and it was hard for them to understand how this tragic incident may have shaped my adult life.
Describe an event or circumstance in your childhood, teens or adult years that caused you to withdraw from life. How did your emotional pain manifest and limit your life thereafter?
In my teen years I became a punk youth, rebellious to my parents and skeptical of society and my government. My country was in the middle of a devastating war and I felt that the status quo didn’t have a place for women like me in Peru. So, I left to the U.S. thinking that it was my ticket to freedom and that I would soon bloom as an artist. However, quite quickly I became an undocumented immigrant on an expired visa.
This circumstance forced me to literally go underground and take risky and marginalized jobs. I couldn’t develop myself as an artist and I ended up cutting ties with my family in Peru. I became isolated from the world, and with almost no one to turn to, I sought refuge in alcohol and drugs, which immersed me even further into sadness, depression and suicidal thoughts. I even developed a rare illness that no doctor could treat. As a human being I could not see a way out of this life. In my mind, love, hope and art seemed to have died forever.
What has been the main theme of struggle in your life? What is the main thing you have needed to heal in your lifetime?
Living the majority of my adulthood as an undocumented immigrant is something that marked my life. For a very long time, I internalized the societal beliefs of others and accepted their view of who I was as an immigrant, as a woman. Without a sense of self, I was left practically voiceless and disempowered, without an identity as an artist and as a Latina woman.
Out of my deep desire for not letting my dreams die, I started to see that freeing my consciousness was key to my transformation. I realized that my mind had been confined to a sort of internal jail. Thus, I started to find a way out of chaos and darkness. Healing my mind and my heart became the central focus of my life. All the negativity, the fear, the desperation, the rage, the conflict, the feelings of unworthiness, of being separated from life, began to quiet down tremendously. I learned to recognize these feelings and patterns, and when I did, they went away into the vacuum of non-existence.
What is your greatest strength today?
When I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in 2012, my life changed again. However, this ordeal has become my greatest gift and teacher today. Now, I seem to have an unlimited capacity for optimism and renewed faith in life, knowing from the inside out that anything and everything is possible to achieve, no matter how far or difficult it may seem.
What is your favorite healing modality? What makes you feel alive, passionate and whole?
My favorite healing modality involves using art journaling and body movement, something I call “self taught art therapy.” When I was in my 20’s I used art journaling as a vehicle to express all my demons and irrepressible anger with the world. However today, two decades later, I use art journaling with greater intention and purpose, as a mindfulness process that illuminates my path towards awareness and self-reflection.
For instance, I have been using art journaling to resolve inner conflict and dig in deeper into the unresolved feelings I have had with my parents and siblings. So, I have “intervened” family photos and transformed them into paintings using journaling and mixed-media techniques. Feelings of forgiveness and love have floated from my heart into words and images; they have become part of my journal pages and paintings.
Describe yourself as whole and healed. Who are you in your essence?
I am not only my body and not only my mind. I am a spirit, whole and complete, having the human experiences I have chosen so I can grow and expand. Already perfect and healed, I only need to peel the layers of my consciousness to realize who I am, and then, rejoice in life with my fellow beings.
If the major healing theme of your life had a book or a movie title what would it be called?
I am actually making a documentary film about my life and it is called Prodigal Daughter. This is the inspiring story of a Latina woman who discovers a new path for life in the face of U.S. immigration policies, family isolation, and trauma. The film uses art journaling and photo-paintings as visual tools to tell the story of an immigrant from the inside out and presents a healing process that may be useful to many.
When screening the film at community centers, I plan to develop art journaling workshops where the audience can create their own healing art.
How has your past pain informed your life purpose? How do you specifically want to contribute life?
It seems like everything that has brought me pain in my life has appeared at the exact time to teach me important lessons in order to transform me into who I am today. All these challenges have been turned around in my consciousness and become my best assets. Today, my vision is to bring healing and empowerment to women and immigrants using art and storytelling as vehicles of transformation.
What strength-based inspirational advice would you give someone who has suffered in similar ways to you?
To never let the light die inside you because you are a gift to the world. Find infinite love within yourself, if inspired, bring hope to others.
What famous inspirational quote sums up your life journey?
"The limits you have are the only limits you believe." ~ Dr. Wayne Dyer
On a mission to empower women and immigrants, Mabel Valdiviezo creates compelling films about gender, ethnic and cultural issues. She is a filmmaker, visual artist, woman in tech, and an alumni of the Sundance Producers Conference.
You can connect with Mabel at firstname.lastname@example.org
And on Facebook