Alex Rivera’s The Sixth Section tells a contemporary story that reveals a new perspective on Mexican migrant labor life. Rivera and co-producer Bernardo Ruiz followed José Garcia, a young man from the small Mexican town of Boqueron. Garcia decided to leave to support his wife and family, coming to the U.S. hidden in the trunk of a car. Once here, he moved to Newburgh, New York, and found much more than a job — he saw that he could use his own labor in America to relieve the stark poverty of his hometown.
(Left to right) Manuel Garcia, Juan Herrera and Efigenio Leon stand near an ambulance which they purchased in Newburgh, New York and brought to their town in Southern Mexico.
In Newburgh, Garcia began speaking to others about an idea — eventually over 300 people from Boqueron settled there — and soon they formed Grupo Unión, a “hometown association,” dedicated to raising dollars in America and using the money to revitalize their hometown in Mexico.
With so many people from Boqueron now transplanted to Newburgh, they refer to themselves as the “sixth section” because Boqueron itself is divided into five sections, or neighborhoods. In Newburgh, these men work long, hard hours in construction, at restaurants, driving taxis and other primarily low-paying jobs. Yet they meet once a week and carefully count out the $10, $20 or $30 each hands over to José Garcia, the Grupo Unión treasurer. It usually adds up to about $200 or $300 each week.
What may be most surprising for North Americans is just how much Boqueron’s “sixth section” has managed to accomplish. They brought electricity to the town in time for the 21st century — something neither the Mexican government nor international aid programs accomplished. They built a cafeteria for the kindergarten and bought an ambulance for the town, driving it 3,000 miles to Boqueron. And in an astounding boost for the town’s morale, the men in Newburgh funded the building of a 2,000-seat baseball stadium in Boqueron.
As the group’s projects become more ambitious, their work begins to have unintended consequences. As a result of the group’s efforts, the Mexican government finally takes an interest in the tiny town of Boqueron, and the men poignantly acknowledge that their success means that, for this generation, leaving may be the only way they can go home again.
Boqueron’s Grupo Unión is not an isolated instance. It is one of at least a thousand “hometown associations” involving not only Mexicans, but workers from the Philippines, China, Italy, and from all over the world. The self-directed social action of these groups is one of globalization’s unanticipated effects.
To capture the complex dynamics of the story, Rivera deploys a unique filmmaking style, using digital imaging technology to seamlessly blend together the worlds of upstate New York and southern Mexico. By mixing these digital sequences with interviews, verité footage and home video, The Sixth Section represents an ambitious attempt to use digital video to tell an important transnational story.