Director/Producer Anayansi Prado talks about her introduction into the world of Southern California domésticas, her passion for immigration reform and what she hopes to accomplish with MAID IN AMERICA.
What motivated you to make MAID IN AMERICA?
When I moved from New York City to Los Angeles, I wasn’t sure if I was going to stay for long so I did not buy a car right away. Instead I rode the bus, and I really noticed the immense amount of Latino immigrant workers in the city.
When we think of L.A., we think of Hollywood or Beverly Hills, but the truth is that more than 50 percent of the people living in L.A. are Latinos. The city’s middle-class and upper-class are being sustained by cheap immigrant labor, often performed by undocumented workers. At the same time, they are invisible in the sense they have no voice and no face in society or the media. I decided to focus specifically on Latina domestic workers because I found it interesting that these women work in the most personal and intimate space of a person—their home.
How did you select the women featured in this film?
I met with almost 30 women. I met Judith through the co-op The Dynamic Workers, which is featured in the film. I went to one of their meetings, hung out for a couple of months and just thought Judith had an interesting story and she was open and wanted to tell the world her life.
I met Eva through a second co-op, which never really took off. But we stayed in touch and I was fascinated with Eva’s intelligence, positive attitude and determination. Telma, I met through her employer’s neighbor. I was particularly lucky to have found the Marburys [Telma’s employers], an African American family, because this lent itself to linking the history of domestic work in the U.S. with the present situation.
Tell us about the interview process used in the film. How did you gain access to the subjects, and gain their trust?
To my surprise, [the women’s] legal status in the United States was really not an issue for them when it came to participating. Their drive to tell their stories was greater than any fear. The fact that they could share with the world where they came from, why, who they are and what they are doing was worth the risk for them.
How long did it take to film MAID IN AMERICA?
Filming began in 2001 and ended in early 2004.
What were some of the challenges you faced?
As an independent filmmaker, financial challenges are always at the top of the list! But in the long run it turned out to be a blessing for us, because the fact that sometimes we did not have the financial resources to wrap production gave us some incredible footage in which we had captured basically life unfolding at its own pace with all its surprises, mysteries and wonders.
What impact do you hope this film will have?
I feel the media gives immigration a negative spin, when the reality is that if all nannies and housekeepers in L.A. were to call in sick, the entire city of Los Angeles would be paralyzed; there are over 100,000 domestic workers in Los Angeles. I would like to see some talks about immigration reform and about the great contribution these people make to our society. I’d also like people to realize that we are all mothers, sisters, fathers, etc., and regardless of our economic or legal status, we can all relate to one another’s joys or sorrows at a human level.
Has it made an impact yet? If so, how?
It was released earlier this year  at film festivals and screenings at universities and for nonprofit organizations. Latino immigrant workers are moved to see their story being told in the film. We’ve had people cry at Q&As. And it has been a great tool helping people discuss topics such as women and labor, immigration, undocumented workers, the U.S. economy and alternatives for immigrant workers to unite.
It has also given a look at a different side of L.A., which is not often depicted in film or the media. But it is more real than anything else.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
Telling the stories of people who otherwise would not have a voice or a face, or whom others might have negative and mistaken stereotypes about. I am very much fascinated with the situation of immigrants, especially those who are undocumented.
There is too much negativity in the mainstream media, just desensitizing people to the fact that immigrants coming from Latin America aren’t any different than the European immigrants who came to Ellis Island. They are people coming to America to find a better life for themselves and their families.
What are your three favorite films?
Satyajit Ray’s The Apu Trilogy
Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2
Pedro Almódovar’s Talk to Her
If you could have one motto, what would it be?
Patience is also a form of action.