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The City

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immigrant experience

sweatshop managers

Seamstress photo

Seamstress - Costurera

Inside a busy factory, Latin American women sew and men iron amid the deafening whir of sewing machines and the searing steam of the irons. A client complains to the manager about the quality of the merchandise, and the manager promises that the order will be finished the following day. The sewers smile at one another as the manager and the client argue, but they return to their work when the manager circulates to check on them. Suddenly, he fires a young woman who didn't perform well enough. The others bow their heads over their work, afraid to come to her defense. As they leave the factory for the day, the women smile and chat. They haven't been paid, but their back wages are promised for Monday. The managers have made promises before that they haven't kept.

Dresses hanging

One of the workers, Ana, is at home doing dishes when her friend Consuela arrives to tell her that her mother called and needs to talk to her. Ana returns the call and finds out that her daughter is sick and needs a lot of money for treatment. Later, at a dress shop, Ana tells her friend that she regrets not bringing her daughter with her to the U.S. She shows her friend a photo of Carmelita, who is six years old, and says she needs $400. Her friend takes the dresses she has made and tries to sell them to a dress shop owner, who says he won't buy merchandise he didn't order.

The women in the factory take up a collection to help Ana's daughter. They know Ana will repay them when they all get their wages. Ana asks the owner to give her at least two weeks' wages, but the manager says there is no money this week.



Ana goes in search of her cousin Julio, who supposedly just got paid. She finds him in a bar drinking beer with his friends. Even though he owes her money and is buying drinks, he says he cannot give her money now, but that he'll collect as much as he can on Sunday. The distraught mother prays as she takes the train: "Carmelita is so far away - she's the only thing I have."

Back in the factory, the workers chat before the bell sounds to start the work day. Ana is silent, not working. When the manager yells at her to get to work, she refuses, saying he must pay her. He fires her, but she refuses to leave, wrapping her arms around her sewing machine. Slowly the others stop working, creating a standoff between the managers and the workers, whose various expressions are revealed in close up: pleading, shaming, angry, downturned, steady gazes in the unusual silence of the factory.

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