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Interview

Carlos and Catherine discuss what drew them to the subject, how Farmingville models a national immigration phenomenon, their view on the policy implications of the film and more.

POV: What drew you to the subject?

Carlos Sandoval: What really made me feel that something had to be done, that somehow this had to be documented, was when I saw a headline that said, "They Wanted to Get Some Mexicans." That was like a stab directly into my heart, because I thought I would never hear language like that spoken in Long Island of all places. The reason that I was drawn to Farmingville, to the issue, was really fear, and quite frankly, almost self-preservation. It was right around that time that the beatings took place, and I felt that something had to be done.

POV: To what extent is Farmingville an illustration of what is happening in other communities in the U.S.?

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Catherine Tambini: The United States is experiencing the largest growth of the Hispanic population in its history, and they're coming to places that we don't normally think of as immigrant gateways. They're jumping over the urban areas and going straight for the smaller areas where they see growth, where they see that there is money, and where the types of services are needed that Americans today don't really want to do.

Day laborers fill a void. We don't want to break up a concrete driveway, we don't want to mow our own lawn, we don't want to wash cars. Especially on Long Island where houses are sprouting like... well, they're called McMansions. If we wanted to pay what it would cost to have Americans do those kinds of jobs, if you could find them to do it, prices would increase by probably 30%. People want cheap labor. People want cheap goods. So there's a real need for the labor that these men come here to do.

POV: How did you know when you had the story?

Carlos: I didn't choose the story, the story really chose me. I felt that there was no way I could ignore it and live with myself. I could see that it was becoming more and more national. It had gone from what was a local story, within this town, to a Long Island-wide story, to a story that was recognized in newspapers across the country.

POV: Carlos, as a laywer, why did you turn to film?

Carlos: I'm a lapsed lawyer, or maybe a recovering lawyer. I was drawn to make a film rather than file a brief about this because I felt it needed to be documented. Later on, I heard someone say something that captured my emotions about the film; that a country without documentaries is like a family without a photo album. If we can't look at ourselves and see what's going on right now, how do we know what's out there?

POV: What are documentaries good for?

Carlos: What I discovered about documentaries is that they are a way of reflecting who we are now. There is something that makes experience so much more accessible when it's real, when it's palpable; you experience it. This was a story that I think could only be told through a documentary because ultimately, what I really want each viewer to come out with is whiplash, emotional whiplash.

POV: What was your approach to representing both sides of the story?

Catherine: We wanted people to be able to experience what it is like to be a man who has left his family, crossed the desert, and is now standing on a corner trying to find work so he can send money home. But we also wanted people to be able to feel what it would be like if they had a group of thirty men move into a house right next door to them. How would I feel? You know, they've bought their home, this is their American dream. And then we wanted to allow the people who were trying to make decisions for the community to have a say. What is it like when you can't do anything for your community because your hands are tied, because our immigration policy really needs to be changed?

Carlos: My goal in making this film was to make what I call an engaged, objective film. To give balance doesn't necessarily mean dispassion. Balance doesn't necessarily mean bland. Balance can mean that each person that speaks, speaks with their own impassioned, angered, frustrated, hopeful voice.

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POV: How did you build trust with the different constituencies?

Carlos: Gaining trust was very important for this entire process. One thing that one has to understand about Farmingville is that it felt like a town under siege. The residents there, I think, were so at the end of their tether, they were so agitated, that they were surveilling one another in ways that were really incomprehensible to me. Cameras were being used neighbor against neighbor, were being used as weapons in the town at so many different levels. So there was a great sense of suspicion.

I moved into Farmingville, rented a little house actually in the town of Farmingville, for two reasons. One, I felt it was necessary to gain the trust of people. Two, I felt that if I was going to document this town and what was going on, it wasn't fair unless I went in and tried living there for a period of time. Certainly nine months is not enough to really gain the understanding of a community, but it's more than simply passing through. Through that process I also came to know people. We had to because we really wanted to tell the story from all sides, and there are many sides to this story.

Catherine: We established trust by telling people that we were really interested in telling their side of the story. We wanted to make it a film that was balanced, so we were very insistent in telling people that we were going to be fair to them, and in just spending time with them talking and listening to their points of view.

POV: Catherine, who do you want to see the film?

Catherine: The film is for any community that's experiencing the same types of problems as Farmingville. Fear of change, new people moving in, people who don't speak your language. But it's also for people across the country who are interested in policy, who are interested in immigration and the rights of human beings. It's for anyone who'll try to experience what it's like to be another person; to stand in the shoes of the immigrant, to stand in the shoes of the resident whose property is being violated. People across the country would benefit by seeing it.

POV: Can you talk a little more about the policy implications?

Carlos: I grew up in the Southwest, in an area where the border was nonexistent for many years, for many generations. My own family goes back at least six generations in this country. We never crossed the border, the border crossed over to get us. So in the Southwest there's always been this sort of swinging door policy. It's been a tacit sort of pact. We open the door to allow people to work when we need them, we close it when we don't. It was so extreme at times that during the Depression, there was wholesale deportation. People were put on trains and dropped in the middle of Mexico, even American citizens of Mexican descent. What we see happening now is that phenomenon has spread beyond the Southwest.

We need a concerted policy response to this phenomenon. We need to recognize that we as a highly developed country, with an aging population that is more educated, we do not have people that are going to do the kind of unskilled or semi-skilled labor that we need for continued economic growth. That needs to be recognized, whether it be through a guest worker program, or a generalized amnesty. There needs to be some formal way to allow this workforce to come in and it has to recognize the possibility of people wanting to stay here permanently. Because roots develop quickly, lives can change, children are born, and unless some path for citizenship is allowed, it'll be very, very difficult.

Unless and until we finally recognize the need for this labor force, as it exists not only here in the United States but in western European countries as well, we're going to continue to have these issues. As long as we have these issues, they will play themselves out at the local level. Suburbs were not made to be a sort of processing plant for immigrants, cities have always had that role. But now small farming towns are becoming Ellis Island, and they don't know what to do.

POV: What's the situation now in Farmingville?

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Carlos: On the surface, things are quieter. My fear though, is that there are certain levels at which it has penetrated more deeply. In some ways what was before at a surface level, may have seeped into the fabric in Farmingville and in other towns.

As Latinos emerge as the largest minority and spread out to many unexpected places across the country, there's going to be fear. The question then becomes, how do we respond to that? How do we see ourselves as a country in this latest stage of our formation? And my hope is that we will have a positive outcome, rather than the sort of easy, fearful response to change.





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