The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center's CineFestival did more than bring exceptional independent films and filmmakers to San Antonio; it examined how immigration is defining the identity of the United States.
A panel discussion, "Immigration in the Media," held March 5 at Our Lady of the Lake University, featured seven independent filmmakers who address the audience about ideas of multiculturalism in America, the challenges of the Hispanic population, and the unresolved issues related to Mexican immigration.
Panelists confronted the ideas presented in Samuel Huntington's recent Foreign Policy article, "The Hispanic Challenge," which argues that Hispanics, specifically Mexican Americans and new Mexican immigrants, threaten the "existing cultural, political, legal, commercial, and educational systems" of the United States.
| "Show that they are human beings; it's hard to hate them when you know them."
Mexican filmmaker Carlos Bolado discussed border issues with an excerpt from his film Invisible Line, which contends that the border is nothing more than "a space" that runs some 2,000 miles between First and Third World countries. "It's very difficult to not talk about the issues," he explained during the panel discussion. "It's something you have to deal with."
"There's the beginning of a culture war," noted Carlos Sandoval, co-director of Farmingville, which won a Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. His film analyzes the clash between the 15,000 residents of a small Long Island community and its 1,500 new Mexican immigrants. "As Latinos become the largest minority, people are getting scared," Sandoval said.
In the past several months, President Bush has addressed immigration though several programs: He proposed amnesty for undocumented workers, amended the controversial US-VISIT, which would have required frequent Mexico-U.S. travelers to be photographed and fingerprinted before crossing the border; and, on March 6, he met with Mexican President Vicente Fox to discuss border issues.
A couple of the panelists dismissed Bush's sympathy for immigrant causes as a ploy for Hispanic votes, while others noted that big business is pressuring the Bush administration to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants. The program would benefit U.S. financial interests because immigrants send millions of dollars back home each year. For example, if immigrants' status were legalized, their money would flow across the border through banks instead of through Western Union or other types of money transfers.
According to Jennifer Martinez of San Antonio's Free Trade Alliance, a member organization that promotes trade with Mexico under NAFTA, Mexican nationals own about 40,000 homes in San Antonio, which contributes to the local economy through property taxes.
Although immigrants and Americans often live side-by-side in San Antonio and other U.S. towns and cities, many panelists pointed out that the two groups many don't understand each other's cultures.
"There's no way to know our neighbors beyond the stereotypes," noted Catherine Herrera, the panel moderator and a member of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. "In the media, `Mexicans` are only seen in immigration and associated with crime."
Another factor affecting Mexican immigration has been the decrease of circular or "seasonal" migration because the border has been tightened since 9-11.
"The border is much more effective at keeping people in than keeping them out, so immigrants don't want to go back," explains Alex Rivera. His film, The Sixth Section, looks at illegal immigrants in Newburgh, New York, who have a parallel home in Boqueron, a small town in Puebla, Mexico. By sending money back home, the immigrants have contributed more than $50,000 to build a baseball stadium and other projects. Rivera explains that this relationship can be found in thousands of Mexican villages that have a "second government" somewhere in the U.S.
The media - including filmmakers - can help to dispel stereotypes by telling the small, intimate stories that capture immigrants' lives. Most important, said Catherine Tambini, co-director of Farmingville, is to "put a human face on everything, so people on both sides could see how the other feels."
"Show that they just want to be happy, have food in their refrigerator and raise their children," continued Bolado. "Show that they are human beings; it's hard to hate them when you know them." •