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Documentary Highlights Latino Experience In United States

Published: October 15, 2013

The documentary “Harvest of Empire” tracing the Latino experience in the U.S. will screen for free in the University Theater on Thursday, Oct. 17, at 7 p.m. Reservations are requested by calling Chicano and Latino Studies’ Espie Contreras at 562/985-4644.

There will be an address at 5 p.m. by longtime activist and founder of the La Raza Party Jose Angel Gutierrez beginning at 5 p.m. In addition, there will be a discussion on the documentary, featuring screening organizer Victor Rodriguez, associate professor of Chicano and Latino studies, faculty member Amy Cabrera Rasmussen from the CSULB Political Science Department and Philipino community activist Joanne Concepcion.

The film features present-day immigrant stories, rarely seen archival material and interviews with such figures as Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchú, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Díaz, Mexican historian Lorenzo Meyer, journalists Maria Hinojosa and Geraldo Rivera, Grammy award-winning singer Luis Enrique and poet Martín Espada.

The film was directed by Eduardo Lopez, co-founder of EVS Communications and producer of the award-winning Spanish-language TV series “Linea Directa,” and written by journalist Juan Gonzalez, whose book by the same name is one of the most popular texts in Latino Studies.

“’Harvest of Empire’ is probably the best documentary produced about the Latino experience in the U.S.,” said Rodriguez, a member of the university since 2000. “I’ve been disappointed by other documentaries about the Latino experience because they string together discrete facts that are not connected to each other. They don’t provide a frame of reference for the viewer to make sense of it all. That is something that doesn’t happen here.”

The documentary deals with fundamental questions about immigration to the U.S.

“The interviews do a pretty good job of helping viewers understand why Cubans come here, why Puerto Ricans, why Central Americans and why Mexicans come here. Why do citizens of 21 Latin nations come here? “Rodriguez asked. “When I screen this film for my students, they come out with expressions of surprise. They didn’t know things like that every happened. It gave them a sense of `wow.’”

The most recent U.S. Census Bureau projections indicate that Latinos are one in six of the U.S. population in 2013 and are projected to increase to one in three by the year 2060.

“Other projections have more robust increases based on the ‘youthfulness’ of the population and assumptions about immigration,” said Rodriguez. “Recent research has explored how will the Latino population contribute (or not) to reduce the aging of the American labor force, what is its impact on the financial health of Social Security and more recently on the Affordable Health Care Act.”

Harvest of Empire poster

While demographers and population scholars have written copiously about the causes for the rise of the Latino population, most have focused on the traditional push and pull theories.

“Less mainstream perspectives have focused on the role of U.S. expansion in Latin America since the 19th century and have posited other reasons for the immigrant flow and its phenomenal growth,” he said. “As a result of scholarly focus on these social phenomena, new theoretical perspectives have arisen, like transnationalism to understand the impending demographic transformation of the United States. This is a transformation which has no historical precedents in U.S. history until the arrival of European settlers to the shores of North America. Its political ramifications and the role of Latinos in the election of the nation’s first African-American president has expanded scholarly academic interest in a population that used to be only under the purview of anthropology and sociology.”

Rodriguez wants audiences to leave the screening with a better comprehension of how complicated is the issue of immigration.

“I want audiences to share the experiences of this film’s subjects,” he said. “I hope this film adds to the audience’s understanding of the social challenges facing the U.S. today.”

He feels the documentary helps to fulfill the mission of Chicano and Latino Studies at CSULB that instruction doesn’t happen just in the classroom. “We want our students not only to learn their knowledge from books but through their lived-out experiences,” he said. “I want our students to better understand how our society works and how to be more effective citizens.”

October is Latino Heritage Month which makes this a good time to focus on immigration, Rodriguez feels.

“This film counters all the information about the issue with which we are bombarded every day. This is a good time for this screening but the documentary provides its viewers with more than just a general cultural sensitivity,” he said. “It is both an analytical documentary and a beautiful film. If you want to have an hour and a half of excellent filmmaking that tells a powerful story, this is the film to watch.”

–Richard Manly