Thursday, October 7, 2010

Duke professor films the immigrant journey

Anthropology professor Charles Thompson's documentary traces the path of thousands of Guatemalans who migrated to one small town in Florida.

The professor and filmmaker teamed up with The North Carolina Council of Churches to make “Brother Towns/Pueblos Hermanos.” It tells the story of two towns Jacaltenango, Guatemala and Jupiter, Florida that have been linked by immigration.

Click here to visit the film's website and watch a 12 minute preview.

Thompson will be showing the film as part of a statewide tour starting tonight at 7 p.m. at the Levine Museum of the New South. He was kind of enough to answer some questions about the film.

How did the idea for this film come about? The first Maya person I met was a refugee who came to Pittsboro, NC, where I lived and worked full time on a farm in 1982. I helped teach him English and to learn to drive. From the friendship that developed between us, the refugee, Victor, who later became a US citizen, invited me to live and work in his hometown. By the time I was ready to go, I had returned to graduate school and was already thinking of writing my dissertation about Central America.

Is there a universal theme or story that you're trying to tell? Yes, boiled down to its essence, the story is that we are all family. Borders divide us, but our stories intertwine through unlikely meetings and suddenly we realize that only accidents of birthplace and history are what make our lives different. What if I had been born down there?, as one person in the film asks. It's a simple, but profound, question. Suddenly, if we're paying attention, the idea of pulling up on bootstraps and how one comes by the privilege of wealth become quite complicated. Should we receive everyone in need with open arms? If we do that, we risk being overwhelmed. Perhaps. But wouldn't the availability of jobs, if slim, curtail any additional people trying to come? If one can't make a living somewhere, then one leaves for another option, no? That's what immigration is about for Guatemalans. It's happier to be with family and in one's birthplace, but necessity drives them.

Immigration is obviously a controversial subject. Some will refuse to see the film on the grounds that they'll feel its advocating for people breaking the law? Oh, there are many protesters in the film who get their fair say. This isn't a one-sided diatribe by any means. But it is a study in the meaning of humanitarianism. Do anti-immigrant protesters have good points? Of course! I'm not a filmmaker who makes fun of people who disagree with me. Regarding legalities, we have to look long and hard at ourselves and ask hard questions such as, "why do Latinos harvest our food?" This isn't about people robbing jobs. It's about people being recruited for the worst jobs in society because we want cheap food and we've been willing to look the other way as long as it helps our bottom line. Immigration comes because of a push from the home country but also because of pulls from the receiving country. And I believe there has long been an active pull from the US to Latin America because we know we can get good help that will work cheap and not complain. We're complicit in this arrangement and to blame the workers now when our economy goes sour is simply immoral, especially when it means sending people back into harm's way or separating families, or taking possessions from an immigrant who has worked hard to make a living.

For people who refuse to go see the film, what would you want to say to them? People who "refuse" to see the film have closed not only their minds, but their hearts. I'd say to them, let not your hearts be ruled by the spirit of fear, but by love and concern that doesn't simply extend to an arbitrary line in the sand, but to all the human family. If you could know the Guatemalans I know, you'd see that often it is we who are impoverished by surrounding ourselves with barriers to others. I was a stranger there, and they took me in and made me their family. I think the parable of the Good Samaritan in the Bible is a good place to turn. Remember that the man left on the side of the road for dead was rescued and tended to by one who was looked down on in Israel. Samaritans were immigrants -- they were those suspected of ill then. The man left on the side of the road learned something else besides what his society was saying then: about who his neighbor is, and who is his brother. Brother Towns -- sister communities. Think about it as if the positions were reversed. As if you were born there.

For people who come to see the film, what do you hope they take away from it? A deeper look into the lives of a few of the millions whose situations are intertwined with our own. It's not just a story of "them." It's a story of us - all of us.


Mezz said...

There is no amount of bleeding heart soap boxing that will ever make it okay to allow people to enter this country illegally. No sympathy for anyone who willingly skirts the law.

When an illegal enters this country they do so willingly breaking the law.

No rationalization will ever make that okay ... There is a process in place ....

How much money do illegal's take out of the system by sending it "back home". Money that needs to be spent in this country, not "Guatemala".

Google the cost of illegal aliens to this country.....

The people who started this country died for it, the people that have protected it since have died for it ....the people who run it now are just giving it away..

The democrats and liberal republicans need to go.....

This sympathy for law breakers is just disgusting.

Larry said...

What did they ever do to the Duke Professor and his Husband who were farming out their adopted and drugged son to other men on the internet?

I find it strange that was not that important a story to the Observer, while his son was very young and an African American? Especially with these stories and of course the Lacrosse stories.

I find it disheartening that at Duke these Professors are able to find time to do films like this and to still find themselves extra curricular activities while shaping the lives of our future leaders of America.