Farmingville Redux

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Carlos SandovalIn 2001, the hate-based attempted murders of two Mexican day laborers catapulted the town of Farmingville, New York into national headlines. Filmmakers Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini spent a year there so they could capture first-hand the stories of residents, day laborers and activists on all sides of the debate, and Farmingville premiered on POV in 2004. After two recent hate-based crimes against Latinos in the New York area this fall, Carlos wrote in to share his fears for the future if Americans don’t “hold back the hate.”

“Beaner hopping” is what the seven restless teenagers called their Saturday night sport. They didn’t do it very often, say once a week or so. They’d set out to “find a Mexican” who they would taunt, maybe punch in the face.
On November 11, 2008, the hopping turned into a stabbing. A man was killed.

The victim was Marcelo Lucero, an immigrant from Ecuador. The town was Patchogue, just south of Farmingville, New York. (Read an article from the New York Times about the incident.)

Less than a month later, three men screamed anti-Latino and anti-gay epithets as one pulverized Jose Sucuzhanany’s head with a steel bat. Mr. Sucuzhanany, an immigrant from Ecuador, had been walking arm-in-arm with his brother in Brooklyn. He died without regaining consciousness. (Read an article about this incident from the New York Times.)

These lynchings — hate-driven, murderous wildings, one next door to Farmingville, the other in my own New York City — have sadly confirmed my reason for making Farmingville (POV 2004). They’ve also left me despairing of my hope for the impact of the film, and wondering about our future as a nation.

While Farmingville was received as a film about immigration, it was really about fear. I made it because I was afraid that the hate that had led to the beatings of two day laborers from Farmingville would spread like a malignancy, from “illegals” to Latinos. I was afraid that a new generation was about to become entrapped in the cycle of non-acceptance and condemned to the corrosive sense of low esteem that comes from being identified as the “other” — just as I and generations of Latinos before me had been.

I hoped that a film that attempted to listen to all sides might become a bridge for dialogue. To be sure, Farmingville triggered lots of discussions. But now, eight years after Catherine Tambini and I started our small, quixotic crusade to hold back the hate, hate seems to be oozing from more and more places… and intensifying.

Fear has grown into a daily fact of life among Latinos. Some of us are telling our children to play inside to avoid trouble. Others are avoiding going out alone after dark. Yet others walk with cell phones at the ready. And with reason. According to FBI statistics, hate crimes against Latinos grew four years in a row from 2003 to 2007. Nearly one in 10 Latinos — including citizens and legal immigrants — has been stopped and asked about their citizenship status, according to one recent study.

As a result, I am again feeling as fearful as when I began Farmingville. However this time, it’s not just for myself, or the Latino community for whom I fear. I fear for the welfare of the nation.

The Latino population is a demographic force. It’s predicted that we will constitute nearly one-third of the country’s population by the year 2050. We are rapidly becoming the young workers upon whom an aging population depends.

Put another way, the economic welfare of the country will soon rest on a population that we currently run the risk of alienating through fear, of isolating through intimidation, of limiting through unseen barriers that erode the sense of self, and the sense of polity.

Why should Latinos who are being intimidated out of the public square care to support those who make them feel unwelcome? How — in the not-too-distant future — can we ask them to underwrite our social welfare costs, let alone our bloated national debt, when they will remember that we let them be killed in the streets? And how, as journalist Jesse Trevino has so pointedly asked, will they even have the skills to help sustain America’s economic preeminence when we have alienated them so much that they are dropping out of schools at record levels?

Let it be known that the violence we allow to be reaped today will come back to haunt us tomorrow. And if we’re not careful, it will stalk our “beaner hopping” teenagers… and their children.

Farmingville is available for purchase from Docurama.
Carlos Sandoval’s new documentary “A Class Apart” premiers on PBS’s American Experience Monday, February 23, 2009.

POV Guest Blogger
POV Guest Blogger
POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 300 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.
  • Willems

    FOREIGNID: 18177
    I enjoyed this write up, but you are woefully remiss in not tackling the flip side of the coin…the racism prevalent in all of latin America and the negative attitudes they bring to this country as well. Why are you so silent about the “unprovoked” massacre of 4 college students in Newark and the current genocide in California?

  • Jonathan Wong

    FOREIGNID: 18178
    Living in fear? Come to Brooklyn! It’s my Chinese, Jewish and Italian neighbors that are living in fear. Latin music blasting until 5 am, beer bottles on front steps every morning, Spanish graffitti on people’s property, break-ins, slashed tires, students assaulted on the way to school, elderly people getting knocked down and robbed, girls being stalked, homeless threatening home-owners with arson. Why doesn’t La Raza’s lumpenproletariat “hold back the hate” themselves? But of course, being a victim means never having to take responsibility. And threatening ethnic cleansing won’t generate much sympathy for your quixotic crusade.

  • Mike speviak

    FOREIGNID: 18179
    Just saw the original documentary. It seems to present a holistic view from all sides, despite the obvious bias of the filmmakers. I side with the Farmingville residents wanting action taken against the illegal workers. It is NOT about immigrants, racism, color hate or thinking a “human being” is illegal. It is about illegal people working and not paying taxes and using public services without contributing and sending most of their pay out of the country. It is about a violation of health codes and disrupting what was once a peaceful and fairly safe neighborhood by having 25-30 people living in a house and congregating en masse and making a public nuisance and increasing crime rate. This is NOT just rhetoric. This is from personal experience.
    What I saw from the other side is using the ineffectiveness of the INS and local constabulary, using emotional catch phrases, using the bleeding hearts’ energy and presence (and I’m a democrat!) to support their cause and even waving an American flag (uh, it’s not your country). They must be laughing at us every night as they drive to the bank or Western Union (Think about it–insisting on $10.00/hour or $100.00/day cash without taxes, etc. taken out adds up to alot of ca-ching!).
    A woman in the outtakes said it succinctly. If there is a need for these workers, then make them legal. Document them and take out taxes, social security and workers comp, maybe even a health plan. She also expressed amazement that these people keep coming despite the expense and danger and doesn’t either country care to address that.
    It is unfortunate that both sides of the issue attract fringe elements that further radicalize and polarize and bring in more frustration and emotionalism. We need a solution and fast so we that can minimize violence to both sides and desist this atmosphere of fear and hurt for all.
    Mike Speviak

  • Lou DeLucia

    FOREIGNID: 18180
    This is an important issue. I am surprised at the lack of comments.
    The film was well done in trying to present several sides of the issue. I believe that the intent of the makers of the film was not realized. It presented the worker’s side with emotionalism, confusion of the issues, dubious legalities and a show of disrespect for the residents. The residents’ POV was reinforced by this by having the ordinary US citizen identify with them. It is unfortunate that the powers that be, both state, local, and federal don’t want to really tackle this problem. More information on why this is so is needed. Building a worker’s hall won’t work for several reasons: these day labourers will probably not go to an offsite–hanging out in the parking lots of hardware and nurserys is where the work is needed, employers will not want to pay extra ($15.00/hr–$5.00 to the agency and $10.00 to the worker) when they can pay less directly, and locals will rankle in using their tax dollars to fund this. Make them legal and deduct the same as other legal workers.

  • Theresa Riley

    FOREIGNID: 20803
    FYI: You can watch Farmingville in its entirety on the PBS Video Player. (through November 11, 2009)

  • Taylor Mullaney

    FOREIGNID: 21117
    I think it was a good movie and both sides had good arguments. If people would just all get along it would fix all the problems.

  • cody

    FOREIGNID: 21118
    I think that the residents of Farmingville need to get over their ignorance and find a solution that can actually be used instead of just complaining and do something.

  • nichole gray

    FOREIGNID: 21119
    i dont really have a side but i think it would be better if they were leagel

  • Zachary

    FOREIGNID: 21120
    We are all one get it through your head.

  • Brittney.C

    FOREIGNID: 21121
    I think that many people are way to negative about this. So what if they aren’t legal why do you have to be just to live somewhere. I believe there shouldn’t be legal or illegal immigrants they’re people just like us and have families and lives just like us.

  • Jenny

    FOREIGNID: 21122
    I believe that it was a good movie and that it gave good points to each side. It showed why people believe what they do and how you can have different sides to something.

  • Ashley B

    FOREIGNID: 21123
    Illegal immigration is wrong, but hey, there’s not much we can do. If they’re not here causing a rucus, then whatever. But you know, I’m not racist for thinking it’s wrong. It is ILLEGAL for a reason. If anyone were to be driving drunk, they should get in trouble. A mexican shouldn’t get in any more trouble than an american for driving drunk, but if they’re illegal, and they interrupt, big problem with me. I can understand helping families, but I guarantee you that if you go down to Mexico illigally, they won’t give a crap about you. Yep :)

  • Sara

    FOREIGNID: 21125
    this documertry was a very interesting and both sides had some points that were very good but alot of the citizens of farmingvile just wanted them out. why cant Americans just learn Spanish y Engles so we can try to talk to one another.

  • Jake Coleman

    FOREIGNID: 21126
    I believe that the immigrants should only be alowed to stay if there supporting familys

  • John

    FOREIGNID: 28809
    I live in Farmingville. Pay taxes there. Support my community. Send my kids to school there. And everything else that comes with living in this town. I completely oppose ANY illegal migration of ANY kind, color, race, nationality, etc. coming not only into my town, but into America.
    Let’s take the historical argument (someone mentioned the Puritans): When the Puritans came here, there were no immigration laws …heck no government even. Sure they took land away from the Natives, but that’s a topic for another day and in no way compares to what is happening all over America today. Yes this nation was built on immigrants. Ever hear of Ellis Island? That’s where they all checked in for dozens of years, were given documentation, many had names changed on the spot, given housing, jobs, etc. Millions of them. Sure some came illegally too and I would have opposed them if I were alive at the time.
    Let’s take the racism argument: As stated above, I oppose ANY form of illegal immigration (and those who support it by providing shelter, work, money, etc.). I don’t care if there were 200 white Irish guys hanging around every 7-11 in my town. I’d oppose them too (I’m white and Irish BTW).
    Let’s take the hard working argument: So they are hard working. Big deal. Does that give them the right and permission to completely disregard the laws of OUR nation? Absolutely not. If you are a hard working American, can you go to say Brazil and illegally enter their country because you are simply looking for work? They aren’t migrating into our nation because they are hard working and “just looking for work”. They are doing it because they can. It is easy, they are unaccountable, and no one is stopping them. There are thousands of illegal day laborers who have been out of work for months. Do you see them leaving? Nope.
    Let take the immigration argument: So you want to be an American citizen, but you’ve entered the country illegally. Too bad. Your first act at gaining citizenship is to break a federal law? Seriously? We need to reward you with citizenship? People wait years, legally, to become citizens. Get in line.
    Let’s take the housing/health issue: 2 houses down from me live a dozen or so men in an illegally converted 1 family home, into a 3 family home. Multiple safety violations are visible right on the outside of the house (too many gas tanks, illegal driveways, etc.) If something happens in that house (fire, etc.) who foots the bill? The dozen or so guys illegally paying rent? The building owner paying a property tax bill that is 1/3 what it should be (already looked it up in public records)? Two of the men have admitted to me they are not here legally. Guess what, their kids ride the school bus with my kids. I pay taxes for that bus and that school. They pay none. When my kids needs to go to the hospital or a doctor, I’m paying out of pocket for that, while they can walk in and be treated without paying a dime. Our nation can’t support that.
    The point is illegal = illegal. Once you enter our nation illegally, which they ALL do, you forfeit any privileges the rest of us citizens have. That includes working, education, shelter, safety, and more. Heck, if as an American you are caught entering Mexico illegally (is anyone actually doing that?) they will throw you in jail for up to 3 years! On the spot because frankly you are caught. Yet on the other hand, the Mexican government is providing pamphlets to residents to explain how to illegally and safely cross the border. Many are right in saying that no person is “illegal”, but you can’t deny that their ACTIONS are illegal.
    Oh and BTW, drive around Farmingville and tell me how many out of state license plates you spot. I counted 15 one day in a 2 mile area. Oklahoma, NC, Florida, Ohio, SC, Texas plates and more. So are these men/women Farmingville residents or from somewhere else? I’d bet 90% of those registrations are not valid. Oh wait, they own homes and/or pay rent in 2 states! That’s what it is.