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The Forgotten Americans

"... How sad to be born here, live here all your life, die
here and not know what it is like to be an American ..."
- colonia resident

Austin, Texas - PBS will air The Forgotten Americans, a compelling portrait about the residents of U.S. neighborhoods called colonias, Friday, December 14, 2000 (check local listings). This documentary, by nationally recognized filmmaker Hector Galán, captures the hope that grows from these colonias where the streets have no names and often there is no running water or electricity.

There are 1,500 colonias near the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico, with more than 500,000 people living in them. Developed outside the city limits, there is little or no enforcement of zoning regulations. Residents live in Third World conditions, without health and human services, environmental services, or capital improvements. They face widespread health problems. Families cope with the highest unemployment rates in America more than 20 percent, and they have an average annual household income of approximately $3,000-$6,000.

"The plight of the colonia residents is something that touches all areas of the United States," said Galán. "By definition, colonias are solely a border problem, but these people live in impoverished conditions very similar to those found in the Appalachian Mountains or the Mississippi Delta."

Colonias date back to the 1950s, when they were built as temporary housing for migrant farm workers. Developers sold thousands of lots at low prices promising to provide basic services; they found a steady stream of customers eager to buy into the "American Dream." The residents never received the most basic services. Housing in these neighborhoods ranges from mobile homes to makeshift dwellings built by the owners with whatever materials they can afford cinderblocks, wood or tin. With misleading names like Sunny Skies and Green Valley Farms, colonias are anything but. And there are no laws to protect the residents of colonias.

The Forgotten Americans tracks the lives of colonia residents, including Rosie De Leija who lives in Green Valley Farms, for more than a year and captures their struggle to survive as they search for their "American Dream." De Leija moved a mobile home onto land she purchased, but the colonia was built on a dried-out lakebed that floods whenever it rains. She and other residents have been evacuated twice within the last five years and live in constant fear of rain.

"I knew nothing about it flooding or anything," De Leija said. "It was a big surprise. We have septic tanks that get overflowed and this is very hazardous to the children's health, to our health. Animals die and they have to stay around until the health department is able to get in because nobody can get in or get out."

In his 20-year career, Galán, president of Galán Productions, has shone his documentary light on such subjects as foster care in Arkansas, the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico and the plight of copper miners in Arizona. His 24 documentaries include the award-winning "Songs of the Homeland" and "Los Mineros," as well as such PBS "Frontline" series specials as "New Land, Old Harvest," "Who Cares About Children" and "Go Back to Mexico!"

Underwriter: W.K. Kellogg Foundation Producer/Director: Hector Galán; Presenter: KLRU-TV, Austin, Texas. Executive Producer: Jaime Chahin. Director: Hector Galán. Narrator: Henry Cisneros; Original Music Score: Joseph Julian Gonzales. Format: CC STEREO



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