“I am an immigrant” Oscar winning director Guillermo del Toro speaks for millions

Who isn’t from a lineage of immigrants in this relatively new continent of ours ‘discovered’ just a few hundred years ago. Even the indigenous of our land are thought to have had migrated from elsewhere. In his acceptance speech for Best Director at Sunday’s 90th Academy Awards, Mexican film director, writer, and producer of The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro conveys multiple truths. Indeed, multiplicity looks to be the trend forward.

del Toro

“I am an immigrant,” del Toro declares, these four words bold and clear, albeit humbly and thankfully.

The director continues:

“In the last 25 years I’ve been living in a country all of our own. Part of it is here, part of it in Europe, part of it everywhere.”

del Toro highlighted another truth by saying that being a part of a diaspora, home can be anywhere. While some may oppose to it, one cannot deny the effects of globalization is a breaking down of barriers, the fusing of cultures, and the forming of the world citizen.

del Toro is the third Mexican director to win the Best Picture Oscar. He follows two of his countrymen–‘The Three Amigos’ as they’re called– basking in the Oscar limelight in recent years, Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity in 2013 and Alejandro González Iñárritu in the subsequent two years for Birdman and The Revenant.

“… I think that the greatest thing that our art does and our industry does is to erase the lines in the sand. We should continue doing that when the world tells us to make them deeper.”

The making of the Oscar winning feature The Shape of Water is a testimony of border crossing. Written and helmed by a Mexican director, the film stars a London, England, born Sally Hawkins, supported by a cast of American actors. Original music written by a French film composer, Alexandre Desplat, who won his second Oscar with his water music (his first was The Grand Budapest Hotel in 2015). Director of photography is Danish cinematographer Dan Laustsen. The movie nominated for thirteen Academy Awards and winning four is shot and produced in Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Toronto production designer Paul D. Austerberry and his team garners an Oscar for their creative work, bringing del Toro’s fantastic imagination to life.

del Toro sure knows what it means to erase lines in the sand.

Kazuo Ishiguro

A parallel figure can be found in the world of another art form. The 2017 Nobel Laureate in Literature Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1954. When he was five, he followed his family to England. At first his parents thought their sojourn would be a short couple of years, but the family ended up staying there ever since. Immigrants as well. Ishiguro had not returned to visit the country of his birth until thirty years later.

His earliest novels are set in Japan confronting Japanese issues; his later works expand out to other locales and even crossing literary genres. His most well-known novel is perhaps The Remains of the Day which was adapted into film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. It is bona fide a British novel.

Is he a Japanese writer or an English writer? Ishiguro was asked this boundary-setting question after his Nobel win. In his own words on the British Council Literature webpage: “I am a writer who wishes to write international novels. What is an ‘international’ novel? I believe it to be one, quite simply, that contains a vision of life that is of importance to people of varied backgrounds around the world. It may concern characters who jet across continents, but may just as easily be set firmly in one small locality.” Only by eliminating borders can one reach the universal.

del Toro had it right when he used the metaphor of lines in the sand. Often borders are not carved in stone but fluid and arbitrary. Surely you can make them deeper. But sand being sand, the lines can be readily washed away as the tides of change come rolling in.


I thank Asian American Press for allowing me to repost my article in full.

Related Posts:

The Shape of Water is All Enfolding

Don’t Just Drive Past The Three Billboards

Mudbound: From Book to Screen


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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

14 thoughts on ““I am an immigrant” Oscar winning director Guillermo del Toro speaks for millions”

    1. Hi Michelle,

      I’ve my own immigrant experience when I came to Canada from HK when I was a teenager. I’m guessing that your move to OK from ON just might have brought you some first-hand experience also, even though the language and culture may not be so different.


  1. Arti,

    This is my response from reading your post on immigrants:
    Last week because of the nor’easter hitting NYC, I had the good fortune of getting a coveted ticket to see Lin Manuel Miranda’s broadway musical Hamilton. IT BLEW ME AWAY!!

    In case you don’t know, Hamilton is a hip-hop concept musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United State. In the early 1770s, Hamilton, a poor kid from the Caribbean, an immigrant who came America to build a life for himself and ended building a nation.

    In 1959, Another young man from Kenya came to America, fell in love with a Kansas girl, fathered a son who grew up to become the president of the United States.

    In 1973, Yet another young man, (Lin Manuel Miranda’s father), an immigrant from Puerto Rico, came to America, learned English, started a family and one night in 2009, watched his son perform at the White House, and receive a standing ovation from the president of the United States.

    In 1967, Yet another young immigrant from Jamaica, came to America, with a fierce gift for rhythm, a knack for powerful sound systems, and countless warm memories of how music drew people together back home in Jamaica.

    It is as DJ Cool Herc, Clive Campbell is being honored today as the first of the founding fathers of hip-hop. Then I started reading the book: Hamilton the Revolution by Lin Manual Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. I learned that Hamilton, the broadway musical is both ambitious and revolutionary in that the creator wants to remind us that Broadway, though it has absorbed jazz, then rock, hadn’t absorbed hip-hop, even though he saw the enormous potential of fusing those sounds, by fusing hip-hop in the show, Miranda challenges audiences to think differently about immigrants and Broadway. “…..just as we continue to forget that immigrants are the backbone of our country, we forget that musical theatre is a mongrel art form,” Miranda says.

    The book cites that 13 percent of the US population is foreign-born…..that one day soon, there will no longer be majority and minority races, only a vibrant mix of colours. Like lines in the sand being washed away…..

    BTW, love your post!



    1. Yin-Ling,

      Thanks so much for throwing in your pebbles into the Pond and creating so many ripples. What you’ve noted here are all significant facts. Indeed, America is a nation built up by immigrants. Why, the Puritans came as migrants too didn’t they? Same with Canada. I’m one of the million pieces that make up our cultural mosaic which is constantly evolving every day. Fascinating.

      One of these days I hope I’ll have the chance to experience “Hamilton” on Broadway! 🙂


  2. Thank you for this post! In the Bible book of Genesis: At the tower of Babbel is when people were first dispersed over the world and became “immigrants”, so to say. We know that is also when God “confused” their languages. I think that is when God changed people in their physical look also, when what we have called the different colorings and shapes of features came to be. I do believe Adam and Eve were the first people, that the Flood of Noah’s time washed most all away, and that we are all, irregardless of coloring and different features, descended from the same. It is so simple! Anyway, it makes sense to me. God bless, C-Marie


  3. This is such a fabulous post, and it really brings home the power of a multicultural, diverse country. No, not just country. World. We’re all people who eat, drink, hit the bathroom, wake up in the morning and go to sleep. And the differences are what shape us into individuals but at the core we are as one. If only the world would see that.

    Quick point — I think Desplat won for Grand Budapest, not King’s Speech. (He was nominated for that, among several other scores in the past.)


  4. May the tides of change keep rolling in. Thanks for this thoughtful, well written post. As the granddaughter of Ukrainian immigrants and of old New England Yankees I do appreciate and support the idea of global citizenship.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Barbara,

      Yes, we’re all neighbours in this global village of ours. Thanks for stopping by the Pond and throwing in your two pebbles. 🙂


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