The Celine Archive
THE CELINE ARCHIVE is simultaneously an act of journalism, a journey into family and community memory and archives, a love poem, a story of grief and trauma, and a séance for the buried history of Filipino-Americans. Filmmaker and scholar Celine Parreñas Shimizu artfully weaves together her own story of grief with the story of the tragic death of Celine Navarro, which has become lore. In 1932, Navarro was buried alive by her own community of Filipino-Americans in Northern California, but the circumstances surrounding her death were and are unclear and have oft been spun, sensationalized, and dramatized. The filmmaker, a grieving mother with ties to the same community, finds resonance with Navarro’s memory and long-lost story, and she sets out to first learn — and then tell — the truth about Navarro’s death, ultimately portraying her as a feminist heroine.
Through animation, portraiture, site visits, archival materials, and interviews with scholars, family, and community members, the film shares the most widely circulated versions of the story. In one version, Celine Navarro committed adultery, but there is no proof beyond the accusations. In another, Navarro reported a crime committed by one the members of the fraternal organization Caballeros Dimas Alang, of which she was a part. The member ended up in San Quentin Prison, and for this she was labelled a traitor and punished. In a variation of this story, the crime she reported was one of gendered violence – rendering Celine a brave, pioneering feminist who refused to be silenced. A final version of her story, one that is documented by the Filipino American National Historical Society and believed by her family members, discloses that a community leader stalked and preyed upon her, ignoring Navarro’s repeated refusal of his advances.
What does it mean to be descendants of violence, and in particular, gendered violence? How can women heal and make families whole? How can truth-telling help family members move through grief? Told with great care and respect for Navarro, her family, and her descendants, this film is a gift of love given to generations who have held Celine in heart and women fighting to have a voice in the face of violence.