Los Trabajadores/The Workers

Film Explores America's Contradictory Dependence on and Abuse of Immigrant Labor

LOS TRAJABADORES Airs Nationally on Independent Lens March 25, 2003 at 10:30 P.M. on PBS "We build the buildings, we do the hardest jobs, and still they don't want us.”— Juan Ignacio

For Immediate Release 

Mary Lugo, 770/623-8190; lugo@negia.net
Cara White, 843/881-1480; carapub@aol.com
Nancy Fishman, 415/356-8383 x226; Nancy_Fishman@itvs.org 

(San Francisco, CA) — It's 1999, and the booming city of Austin, Texas keeps on growing—thanks largely to men like Ramon and Juan. They work some of the hardest jobs in an America that wants their labor as long as they go back to Mexico or Nicaragua when they're done. Through the two men's lives and a battle over Austin's controversial day labor program, LOS TRABAJADORES explores the myriad contradictions that haunt America's dependence on and discrimination against immigrant labor. LOS TRAJABADORES will air nationally on the PBS series Independent Lens, on March 25, 2003 at 10:30 P.M. (check local listings). 

Through the stories of two men, Ramon Castillo Aparacio and Juan Ignacio Gutierrez, and the controversy surrounding the relocation of a day labor site from downtown to a residential neighborhood in Austin, LOS TRABAJADORES examines the misperceptions and contradictions inherent in America's paradoxical history of both dependence on and abuse of immigrant labor. Sounds and images of manual labor and construction set the scene of a city developing at the hands of those who have been excluded from the prosperity they help to create. As Juan says, "They say Austin is growing, or this country is growing, but thanks to whom?” 

While sociopolitical and economic issues provide a context, the film's spine and focus are a year in the lives of Ramon and Juan and the day labor site where they wait for work. Through the story of the day labor site moving into a residential neighborhood, we learn about some of the obstacles faced by immigrants—including local residents who are opposed to having day laborers in their neighborhood, and whose misconceptions sometimes lead to discrimination. 

Through Ramon and Juan, the complexities of immigration and labor issues are given a rarely seen human quality. We learn about the personal sacrifices made by immigrants who come here, both documented and undocumented, each desperate for work so that their families back home will survive. "I came here illegally and this is against the law of the United States,” says Ramon, a Mexican father of two, "but it is not against my law, nor is it against the law of my family. Even if they're American, they can't tell me I can't work to support my family.” Ramon's words are made even more powerful by meeting his wife and daughters in Mexico and hearing what it's like to be the family left behind. Ramon and his family, along with Juan and other immigrants, help personalize an issue that has been terribly dehumanized in the mainstream media. 

America relies heavily on the labor of such individuals, but how many Americans know these laborers as people? When local residents visit the day labor site, many of their misconceptions and fears melt in the face of the integrity and dreams of the day workers. LOS TRABAJADORES introduces some of these immigrants to an American audience who might never have taken the time to know them. Writes Michael King of the Austin Chronicle: "Everyone should see this film, the human underside of our relentless growth. Every filmmaker should see it as a testament to letting the story come to you.” 

Screening with short film WHY CYBRACEROS? In the not so distant future the Mexican/American border has been sealed shut, as U.S. companies turn to Internet technology that allows migrant laborers to work from home. WHY CYBRACEROS? is a 5-minute satire based on (and incorporating footage from) a real 1940s US government film that promoted the "Braceros” labor program and remade with a whimsical, creative twist by experimental filmmaker Alex Rivera. For more information, go to www.pbs.org/theworkers or www.pbs.org/lostrabajadores (spanish version)

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  • In 2000, slightly more than 10% of the U.S. population was foreign-born, compared to 15% in 1915. 
  • There are over 150 million migrants in the world today. The U.S. receives less than 2% of the world's migrants on an annual basis. 
  • The number of documented immigrants admitted in 1998 totaled 660,000, the lowest level since 1988. 54% of these were female. 
  • The majority of immigrants come to the U.S. legally. About 8 of 11 legal immigrants come to join close family members. 
  • Immigrants provide more to the nation's economy and government services than they use, adding about $10 billion each year to the U.S. economy and paying at least $133 billion in taxes, according to a 1998 study, A Fiscal Portrait of the Newest Americans, by the National Immigration Forum and the Cato Institute. The typical immigrant and his or her descendants pay an estimated $80,000 more in taxes than they will receive in local, state and federal benefits over their lifetime. 
  • The total net benefit (taxes paid over benefits received) to the Social Security system in today's dollars from continuing current levels of immigration is nearly $500 billion for the 1998–2022 period. 
  • Citizens, legal permanent residents and undocumented workers alike enjoy the same workplace rights under such key labor laws as the National Labor Relations Act, the Railway Labor Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Labor Standards Act. Such laws include the requirement of minimum wage and overtime, providing a workplace free from discrimination based on race, gender, religion and ethnicity, and the right to form and join unions, regardless of the person's immigration status. 
  • In 1999, an estimated 85% of the nation's wealth was held in the hands of the top 20% of the U.S. population, while the bottom 20% held just 0.5% of the wealth. *Sources: AFL-CIO, and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights "Bridge” Curriculum 

Producer, Director and Editor: Heather Courtney
Camera: René Peñaloza Galván (in Mexico), Tammy Arnstein, Heather Courtney, Juliet Dervin, Cervando David Martinez, Isaac Mathes, Gerrie McCall, Spencer Parsons, Athena Rachel Tsangari
Music written and performed by Bradley Jaye Williams 

Featured Interviewees, in order of appearance: 
Ramon Castillo Aparicio, laborer from Mexico
Juan Ignacio Gutierrez, laborer from Nicaragua
Virginia Broca Morales, Ramon's wife
Gus Garcia, former Austin City Council Member
Gema Castillo Broca, Ramon's daughter
Jade Castillo Broca, Ramon's daughter 

International Documentary Association's David L. Wolper
Student Achievement Award Best of Show, Cinematexas International Short Film Festival 2001, Austin, TX
Audience Award, SXSW Film Festival 2001, Austin, TX
Humanities Award, Great Plains Film Festival 2001, Lincoln, NE
First Place, Documentary, Next Frame International Touring Festival 2001–2002
First Place, Student Documentary, Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival 2001 

About the Filmmaker 
Heather Courtney (Producer/Director) 
Heather Courtney's documentary LOS TRABAJADORES was her thesis film at the University of Texas at Austin, where she recently received her MFA in Film Production. She has received grants from the Texas Council for the Humanities, the Austin Arts Commission and the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund. More recently, she was nominated for a Rockefeller Film/Video Fellowship and received a Fulbright scholarship to Mexico to continue research for her next documentary. Prior to film school, Heather spent eight years working for various refugee and immigrant rights organizations, including the International Rescue Committee in the Rwandan refugee camps at the Tanzania/Rwanda border. As an information officer, grant writer and photographer for these organizations and on several independent projects, Heather has written and photographed extensively on the stories of displaced populations. In addition to LOS TRABAJADORES, Heather has directed, produced and photographed documentaries and educational videos for several nonprofits, including a video shot in Romania for Casa Speranta, a home for abandoned HIV-positive children in Constanta, Romania; an educational video for Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera, about women organizing in the maquiladoras on the Texas/Mexico border; and a training video for the Political Asylum Project of Austin on legislation to help immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence. Heather is currently in Mexico on a Fulbright Scholarship to begin production on her next documentary. LOS TRABAJADORES is available for community screenings by contacting www.daylabormovie.com. 

About Independent Lens host Angela Bassett 
Academy Award nominated actress Angela Bassett, a long-time champion of independent filmmaking, will host the first season of Independent Lens. Says Bassett, "There are so many talented independent filmmakers working today. I'm excited that ITVS and PBS are bringing these films to primetime television. I'm inspired by the diversity and depth of the Independent Lens series.” Bassett, whose career includes outstanding work in television, on Broadway and in film, has also consistently worked with independent filmmakers, including John Sayles, with whom she collaborated on the recent Sunshine State, Passion Fish and City of Hope. A skilled producer with numerous projects to her credit, Bassett served as executive producer of the recent highly acclaimed CBS film "The Rosa Parks Story,” for which she earned an Emmy nomination as Best Actress. Bassett received an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe Award for her unforgettable portrayal of Tina Turner in What's Love Got To Do With It. Her many other film roles include The Score, Boesman & Lena, Supernova, Music Of The Heart, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Contact, Waiting To Exhale, Strange Days, Malcolm X and Boyz In The Hood. 

About Independent Lens 
Independent Lens is a groundbreaking weekly primetime PBS series that airs on Tuesday nights at 10 P.M. and presents American and international documentaries and a limited number of dramas. Each week Independent Lens bursts onto the screen and presents a unique individual, community or moment in history to bring viewers gripping stories that inspire, engage, provoke and delight. From pioneering women surfers to brilliant composers to brave resistance fighters, Independent Lens introduces people whose stories are unforgettable. Independent Lens is for curious viewers of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds; all that's required is a TV and an inquiring mind. The Executive Producer of Independent Lens is Sally Jo Fifer, ITVS Executive Director. Independent Lens is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), with additional funding provided by PBS. 

About ITVS 
Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds and presents award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web, and the weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10 P.M. on PBS. ITVS is a miracle of public policy created by the vision of media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. ITVS was established by a historic mandate of Congress to champion independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and serve underserved audiences. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. Contact ITVS at itvs@itvs.org or visit www.itvs.org. ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American People. 


Posted on January 17, 2003