Filmmaker Diane Paragas moved to Lubbock, Texas, from the Philippines when she was just 4 years old. Her family was fleeing government oppression, but making a life in the U.S. wasn’t exactly easy. Now, Paragas is mining her experience as an immigrant to tell stories through film, including in “Yellow Rose,” the first Filipino American film to be distributed in theaters by a major Hollywood studio.
Paragas had many influences on her journey to becoming a filmmaker, including the city of Austin, where she went to college, and Lea Salonga, the Filipina American voice actor who played Disney princesses Mulan and Jasmine. But she says perhaps most influential was being a Filipina immigrant in all-white Texas classrooms as a kid.
“It was rough in a way, and like in the film, I used music to kind of escape,” Paragas says.
“Yellow Rose” tells the story of Rose, a young girl living in the U.S. without legal permission, played by actor Eva Noblezada. Rose’s mother is detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Rose – uses her love of country music to cope. Music is also her way of establishing her identity after she flees the scene when her mother is detained, and she makes a life for herself in Austin – known as the Live Music Capital of the World. But becoming a musician isn’t easy for Rose.
“Music was her big love that was rejecting her,” Paragas says. “It was this unrequited love.”
Paragas says her film depicts a slice of the Asian American community that rarely makes it onto the big screen.
“Filipinos, a lot of people don’t know, have a very close relationship with America,” Paragas says. “We have the second-largest Asian community in America, and immigration is a big part of that. We have a fairly large undocumented group here. It’s certainly not something people ever talk about.”
Written by Libby Cohen.