Beyond the fetishization of the border crossing story, another life and death struggle for immigrants in the United States plays out as they labor to build the places where the nation works, plays and lives.
The short documentary Building the American Dream centers on Texas and its lack of protection for a massive immigrant labor force in the construction industry. And while it’s always easy to hate on our neighbors to the east, viewers across the country should come to terms with the idea the landscape on this topic is nearly homogenous; laborers from south and central America get the jobs done and those in power often treat them more like workhorses or tools than human beings.
Do local and state governments do enough—or anything—to ensure their safety? Especially in Texas, where the ethos of opposition to regulations is strong, the answer is a resounding no. Filmmakers say of the state’s 1 million construction workers, half are undocumented. And when they get hurt or killed, workers and their families usually disappear in fear of consequences from immigration law. Justice seldom factors in.
On top of fatal physical consequences, there are fiscal ones. For the same reasons corporations can get away with hurting workers, they also get out of paying them. The Workers Defense Project takes a starring role here in tackling both safety and savings accounts as a successful advocacy organization, though its members are definitely David in the battle against the giant.
We especially love the portrayal of women in the documentary—not only that one of the leading subjects, an electrician named Claudia, is among the unsung skilled women of the industry, but also, for example, young Jasmine Granillo appears as an articulate spokesperson for her family after her older brother died from heat exhaustion on the job.
Building the American Dream is part of the PBS observation of Hispanic Heritage Month, so it’s streaming free online here. Catch a broadcast on New Mexico PBS channel 9.1 at 8 am Saturday, Sept. 19.
+Stirring but not saccharine
-What do we do with the enormity of injustice?
Building the American Dream
Directed by Chelsea Hernandez
PBS, NR, 55 min.