Amer­i­can Dreams/Bor­der Re­al­i­ties A day of Latino cin­ema


Pasatiempo - - CONTENT - Jen­nifer Levin

Man­hat­tan slum­bers, tens of thou­sands of im­mi­grants spend the night shift clean­ing the floors, win­dows, and coun­ters of banks and re­tail stores. They scrub down the lob­bies of lux­ury ho­tels, hose off side­walks in front of cafés, and leave the sur­faces of cor­po­rate of­fices sparkling for the day staff, most of whom never stop to think about how their en­vi­rons stay pris­tine. Be­fore dawn, be­fore the city has fully awak­ened, thou­sands more lowwage work­ers roll out dough for bagels and pas­tries, brew cof­fee, and pack to-go sand­wiches and sal­ads for com­muters on their rush to the subway.

For years at the Hot & Crusty Bak­ery Café, at 63rd Street and Sec­ond Av­enue, on the Up­per East Side, ded­i­cated, long-term em­ploy­ees chat­ted cheer-sales fully with the pub­lic and rang up with a smile de­spite poor work­ing con­di­tions. They were paid be­low min­i­mum wage, mostly in cash, off the books. Over­time was un­com­pen­sated. Deli ma­chin­ery was in dis­re­pair, putting them at risk of in­jury, and man­agers were known to be­rate work­ers, some­times in front of cus­tomers, and fire them for call­ing in sick.

“Th­ese are the work­ing con­di­tions that coal and steel min­ers had in the late 19th cen­tury,” said Lois Rud­nick, former chair of the Amer­i­can stud­ies de­part Mas­sachusetts, ment at the Univer­sity of in Bos­ton, and cu­ra­tor of Amer­i­can Dreams/Bor­der Re­al­i­ties, a film fes­ti­val to sup­port So­mos Un Pue­blo Unido on Satur­day, Nov. 7, at the Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts. So­mos Un Pue­blo Unido, a Santa Fe-based statewide grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tion es­tab­lished in 1995, or­ga­nizes, ag­i­tates, and lob­bies for im­mi­grant rights.

In 2012 Ma­homa López, a Hot & Crusty sand­wich maker, de­cided the sit­u­a­tion was un­just and il­le­gal. The Hand That Feeds, a doc­u­men­tary writ­ten and di­rected by Robin Blot­nik and Rachel Lears, fol­lows a small group of Hot & Crusty work­ers, led by López and sup­ported by a group of young ac­tivists and la­bor lawyers, as they risk un­em­ploy­ment and de­por­ta­tion to fight for their rights. They are told they have no lever­age to ne­go­ti­ate with own­ers be­cause they aren’t union­ized, so the work­ers form an in­de­pen­dent union.

The Hand That Feeds is the first of three films in the one-day fes­ti­val at CCA; it is fol­lowed by a ques­tio­nand-an­swer ses­sion, via Skype, with the di­rec­tors. Two more films, El Norte and King­dom of Shad­ows, are fol­lowed by in-per­son Q&A ses­sions with their di­rec­tors. There is also a ben­e­fit re­cep­tion and talk,

“Lessons from the Bor­der,” at which some of the film­mak­ers elu­ci­date the themes and lessons of the movies.

Though Santa Fe is much smaller than Man­hat­tan, im­mi­grant la­bor keeps it hum­ming just the same. If all un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants were de­ported overnight, so many seem­ingly mi­nor jobs would be left un­done that ci­ties across the coun­try would grind to a halt. Santa Fe rec­og­nizes this re­al­ity in the form of a higher-than-av­er­age min­i­mum wage, cur­rently $10.84 per hour, more than $3 above the fed­er­ally man­dated rate of $7.25, so that ev­ery­one in town has half a chance to as­pire to the dream of ad­e­quate food and shel­ter.

“I don’t think it’s a del­i­cate as­ser­tion at all to say that this econ­omy would col­lapse with­out im­mi­grant work­ers, as is the case with New York City,” said Marcela Diaz, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of So­mos Un Pue­blo Unido. NYC mayor Bill de Bla­sio, along with Los An­ge­les mayor Eric Garcetti, formed Ci­ties United for Im­mi­gra­tion Ac­tion, a na­tional coali­tion of may­ors urg­ing im­me­di­ate im­ple­men­ta­tion of fed­eral de­ferred ac­tion pro­grams, which pro­vide tem­po­rary re­lief from de­por­ta­tion for some un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, mostly young peo­ple. The leg­is­la­tion is cur­rently be­ing held up by le­gal chal­lenges. Santa Fe mayor Javier Gonzales is a mem­ber of the coali­tion, fol­low­ing in what Diaz de­scribes as a long tra­di­tion of pro-im­mi­grant poli­cies in Santa Fe and New Mex­ico. In 1986, as thou­sands were flee­ing the civil wars in Cen­tral Amer­ica, Gov. Toney Anaya de­clared New Mex­ico a sanc­tu­ary for the refugees. In 1999, un­der Mayor Larry Del­gado, Santa Fe be­came the sixth city in the na­tion to be­come a sanc­tu­ary city, which means city resources can­not be used to iden­tify and as­sist in the de­por­ta­tion of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants. So­mos, and its mem­bers and al­lies, build off th­ese poli­cies to con­tinue to ad­dress im­mi­grant rights. They were in­stru­men­tal in pass­ing the New Mex­ico law that al­lows un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants to ob­tain driv­ers li­censes, and they have es­tab­lished worker cen­ters so that peo­ple can or­ga­nize for pro­tec­tions on the job out­side of op­tions like union­iza­tion.

Work­ing con­di­tions for im­mi­grants are also ex­plored in the Academy Award-nom­i­nated El Norte, a sweep­ing dra­matic epic di­rected by Gre­gory Nava. Twenty years af­ter its 1983 re­lease, Roger Ebert called the film a Grapes of Wrath for our time. “As far as I know, it’s the first Hol­ly­wood movie to ever look at the Latin Amer­i­can im­mi­grant ex­pe­ri­ence from the im­mi­grants’ point of view,” Rud­nick said. She has used the film through­out the years in classes about im­mi­gra­tion. The three-part story fol­lows En­rique (David Vil­lal­pando) and Rosa (Zaide Sil­via Gu­tiér­rez) on their jour­ney to Los An­ge­les af­ter their fa­ther is killed and their mother is dis­ap­peared in war-torn Gu­atemala. Af­ter get­ting ripped off in Ti­juana and crawl­ing through rat-in­fested sewer tun­nels to reach Cal­i­for­nia, the brother and sis­ter find work as a waiter and house cleaner, re­spec­tively, and it seems as though life will soon im­prove, but dan­ger al­ways lurks when you have no green card and very lit­tle money.

In the doc­u­men­tary King­dom of Shad­ows, di­rected by Bernardo Ruiz, the harsh re­al­i­ties of Latin Amer­i­can drug car­tels are ex­posed via three char­ac­ters: a Catholic nun who ad­vo­cates for fam­i­lies whose rel­a­tives have been dis­ap­peared by drug deal­ers or po­lice; a Texan who was a mar­i­juana mule in the 1980s, be­fore the trade turned deadly; and a man from a Mex­i­can im­mi­grant fam­ily who now fights the car­tels for Home­land Se­cu­rity. It’s a small, per­sonal view of the drug war and its ca­su­al­ties — thou­sands of miss­ing loved ones, chil­dren lured into crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity un­der threat of vi­o­lence, and co­pi­ous jail time handed out for rel­a­tively small crimes when the king­pins go free.

“The U.S. was deeply com­plicit in the civil wars that cre­ated the con­di­tions that peo­ple fled and con­tinue to flee,” Rud­nick said. “And it’s the de­mand in the United States for co­caine and heroin that has cre­ated the drug prob­lem. We’ve mil­i­ta­rized po­lice forces in th­ese states that then use the weapons against their own cit­i­zens, and we do noth­ing to ac­knowl­edge the fact that we, as a peo­ple, are driv­ing this.”

She hopes that af­ter view­ing the films and tak­ing part in the talk at the re­cep­tion, au­di­ence mem­bers come away with a much more nu­anced un­der­stand­ing of Latin Amer­i­can im­mi­gra­tion is­sues. “The flee­ing of 300,000 refugees from Nicaragua and Gu­atemala in the 1980s was the worst refugee cri­sis since World War II,” she said. “We have now met and matched that since the start of the 21st cen­tury. Its roots are in El Norte. The best of it is in the or­ga­niz­ing in the deli in The Hand That Feeds. And some of the re­al­i­ties we need to face about what’s hap­pen­ing now across the bor­der are in the fab­u­lous fi­nal film, King­dom of Shad­ows.”

Di­rec­tor Bernardo Ruiz

King­dom of Shad­ows

Di­rec­tor Rachel Lears

Di­rec­tor Gre­gory Nava

El Norte

Di­rec­tor Robin Blot­nik

The Hand That Feeds

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