Day Worker video aims to go 'beyond stereotypes'
In an effort to share their stories with the community — and with help of a variety of local organizations — a group of migrant workers affiliated with the Day Worker Center of Mountain View has produced a short documentary about their experiences coming to and working in the United States.
"Borderless Dreams" focuses on the personal histories of a handful of immigrants from Central and South America, who tell their stories through interviews conducted and filmed by fellow immigrants.
Of course, the film is about more than these workers' individual stories. "Borderless Dreams" takes a sympathetic view of migrant workers, both documented and undocumented, in Mountain View and throughout the U.S.
In acknowledgement of the immigration controversy, the documentary opens with a clip of two cable news personalities — Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo Rivera — engaged in a screaming match over the issue of illegal immigration. When the clip ends, the narrator encourages the audience to look "deeper than headlines," imploring viewers to see the subjects of the film as human beings with human dilemmas.
Driven by necessity
One of the film's subjects, Flor, tells her interviewer that she has come to Mountain View out of necessity. She has left her children in Mexico because back home she could not find sufficient work to support them.
A Guatemalan man, Jose, says that he was driven to the U.S. after his mother fell ill. "I didn't have enough resources to pay the medical expenses," he said. Jose was faced with the choice of heading north for more lucrative pay, or watching her die.
Both Flor and Jose speak favorably about the Day Worker Center, saying that their lives would have been much more difficult without the support they've received, the friendships they've made and the professional networking opportunities they've been afforded by the center.
All of the workers interviewed in the film are identified by their first name only.
According to Elliot Margolies, the film's editor, immigrants — both legal and illegal — are here to stay, and the vast majority of them are honest, hard-working people.
"The bottom line is, we are all here and we are sharing this community," Margolies said. "We want to be able to build each other up and not divide each other."
Jon Feere, a legal policy analyst for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, does not share Margolies' view. Though Feere appreciates that most using the services of the Day Worker Center have certainly fallen on hard times, and while he acknowledges that the United States was founded and settled by waves of immigrants, he contends that immigration in this day and age — both legal and illegal — has become a burden on America. Furthermore, Feere believes that labor centers, such as the one on Escuela Avenue, are only exacerbating that burden.
"Certainly there is a human component to this and most immigrants who come here looking for jobs are good people," Feere said. All the same, he feels that illegal immigrants undermine the American workforce by driving down wages and taking jobs from U.S. citizens. "To me that's a serious problem."
Media Center's help
The video was produced by migrants recruited from the Day Worker Center, using equipment provided by the Midpeninsula Community Media Center in Palo Alto and under the supervision of Margolies, who runs strategic initiatives for the Media Center.
"Our goal was to create a communications vehicle that would help community members understand who the day workers are, why they are here and what their lives are like," said Margolies, who was the first person hired to the Media Center and served as executive director for its first 10 years. The documentary, which will be screened at churches and high schools up and down the Peninsula, is also meant to inform people about what the Day Worker Center does.
The project also served as an educational experience for the migrant workers behind the camera. Margolies said that a few of the workers took a liking to the videography work and expressed an interest in working on future media related projects at the Day Worker Center.
Margolies, who volunteers as an English instructor at the Day Worker Center, came up with the idea for the film, and worked with its director, María Marroquín, to get migrant laborers involved, and to write grant proposals to secure funding from both the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People.
The majority of funding for the project — $30,000 — came from a Silicon Valley Community Foundation grant, which awards financial support to projects that work to address two "challenging problems — the successful integration of immigrants and the inability of receiving communities to understand and recognize immigrants as real and potential assets in the community, rather than as liabilities."
The project also received a $3,500 grant from the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People.
With a budget of $33,500 and a crew of mostly amateurs filming and capturing sound for the film, "Borderless Dreams" is by no means a professional production. Still, Margolies hopes that the documentary will help people better understand the mission of the Day Worker Center and identify with the local migrant labor community.
"We know that immigration reform is a very controversial topic, particularly in a recession," Margolies said. "We didn't set out to come out with a framework for policy-makers. What we really set out to do is to humanize the day laborers, and to go beyond stereotypes."