"There's nothing wrong with the people. I respect them as aliens."- Michael D'Andre, Suffolk County legislator, explaining his vote against construction of a hiring house for Mexican day laborers in Farmingville, NYDirector: Catherine Tambini, Carlos Sandoval
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 01h:22m:25s
Release Date: 2004-11-02
DVD ReviewThe issues around illegal immigration have resonance throughout the United States, but in the public discussion, the geographical locus has been focused almost exclusively on the Southwest: Mexicans crossing the border in dark of night, without governmental imprimatur, and settling in southern California and Texas. One of the very smart and revealing things about Farmingville is that it demonstrates how these questions have radiated out to American communities far away from the Mexican border. It's a fairly evenhanded look at what happened to a middle-class New York suburb when a thousand Mexicans more or less just popped up one day, hanging at the corner by the 7-11, looking for work.
Farmingville is a town of 15,000 or so, on Long Island, maybe 40 miles east of New York City; it's historically been a bedroom community, with easy access to the Long Island Expressway. Business in Farmingville seems to focus on service industries: construction, gardening and nurseries, masonry. In the late 1990s, an influx of Mexican workers came to town, looking for jobs, and they stayed and their ranks swelled; certain street corners became designated pickup areas, places where employers in need of a bunch of guys to haul plywood or tote sacks of fertilizer could pack the right number of men into their trucks and pay them off the books for a day's work. A core of residents got very, very upset by the practice, feeling like the character of their town was being robbed, that something was being taken from them: the Mexicans would routinely pack 30 men into a house to make the rent that much cheaper, and the truck traffic swelled on what had been quiet suburban streets. Some of the Farmingville citizens formed a group, called Sachem Quality of Life (SQL), and started asking questions: if these workers are illegal, where is the INS? Doesn't packing so many people into a home violate fire codes, and present a danger to the neighborhood?
There didn't seem to be anything nativist or xenophobic in these queries at first, but things started running down the slippery slope pretty quickly. A couple of out-of-town white supremacists came to Farmingville and brutally beat a couple of the Mexicans; this was extreme, but the tales the workers tell are of routinely having rocks thrown at them, being shot at with BB guns. SQL whipped out their cameras, trying to take pictures of those trying to hire the Mexicans, and this gets at the dirty little secret of the whole business: these guys wouldn't be in Farmingville if there wasn't a demand for their labor. One employer interviewed on screen, his face obscured, admits as much: there simply aren't Americans who want to work these jobs, and when they take them, they're unreliable. So Farmingville is right at the nexus of the conversation: immigrations laws are enforced with astonishing laxity, in large measure because the work of the illegal immigrants is necessary. Without them, the lawns wouldn't get mowed, the meals in restaurants wouldn't get cooked, and the dishes wouldn't get washed; or if they did, prices for these services would have to rise dramatically. And the citizens in Farmingville, in pursuit of better lives for themselves and their families, certainly have higher aspirations for their kids than to see them grow up to a career flipping burgers.
Filmmakers Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini do a very good job of letting representatives of various sides of the disputes speak for themselves; this is thought-provoking but not didactic filmmaking, and the directors show a tremendous respect for their audience. Whatever your politics, you can feel for those in just about all camps: if you were Mexican and your only hope for economic advancement was leaving your family and taking these jobs, you would; if you lived in Farmingville and feared that your kids couldn't walk safely down the street and saw your taxes going up to support services for those not paying into the system as well, you'd be pretty irate, too. The saddest and most disturbing instance is of Margaret Bianculli-Dyber, an SQL founder; it's not difficult to empathize with her concern for her children, but she throws in with the likes of Ezola Foster, Pat Buchanan's one-time running mate, and the national apparatus of the America Firsters; Bianculli-Dyber even proudly tells the camera crew that she thinks that charges of racism against her are merely marks of her success.
Farmingville doesn't offer pat answers, because with a thorny problem like this, there aren't any; but cries of NIMBY and racial epithets aren't going to make these issues go away.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: A little gauzy, perhaps because much of the film was shot on video; but a solid, steady, and unremarkable transfer.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: There are the audio problems we've come to expect from a documentary with lots of location shooting; in the crowd scenes particularly, the microphones get batted around a little, causing lots of pop. But all the dialogue is sufficiently clear.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
8 Deleted Scenes
- information on affiliates involved with the production of the film
- profile of PBS online resources
Extras Grade: C
Final CommentsA candid, empathic, and even-handed documentary on how the impact of illegal immigrants and the cheap labor they provide both fuel the American economy and undercut our ideas about equal enforcement of the law.
Jon Danziger 2004-11-01