Fordham students marked the last day of New York’s Immigration Heritage Week on April 15 with a screening and discussion with an award-winning filmmaker and a performance by a Queens-based Spanish-language hip-hop group.
The Other Side of Immigration (Roy Germano Films, 2009), an award-winning documentary about Mexico’s most crippling economic hardships, was shown on the Rose Hill campus.
Through more than 700 interviews with the families left behind by U.S.-bound migrant workers, the film highlights the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on poor farmers, the country’s vicious cycle of poverty spurred by a corrupt government and the social pressures on Mexicans to seek a better way of life.
The 55-minute film was shot, edited and produced by Roy Germano, Ph.D., a visiting professor of politics at The New School, while he was a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin.
Germano said he was inspired to shoot the film while was working on a dissertation on the political impact of money Mexicans in the US send to home communities.
“I was looking at why people send money home and found a relationship between decreased spending by the Mexican government on things like subsidies and increased money that’s remitted back,” he said. “When people lose a safety net, they find another one.”
Remittances, money transferred from documented and undocumented immigrants living in the United States to their home country, accounted for 2.5 percent of Mexico’s Gross Domestic Product or U.S. $26 billion in 2009. When asked if migration is a means for development in Mexico, Germano said the results are mixed.
“On one hand, you can see some people drop out of the labor force when they are receiving money from abroad. Also, lots of times communities are losing their best, hardest-working people,” he said. “But you also get an economic resource that helps people get a foot on a ladder rung. They’ll send their kids to school or be able to get healthcare. If people don’t have to worry where their next meal is coming from, then hopefully they can develop the community.”
But development is not always the first priority for remittance dollars, as Germano found that 60 percent of families who receive monies from abroad first use those funds to buy food.
“But I did find a trend of people who will pool money earned in the U.S. and send back large amounts for community development projects,” Germano said. “The Mexican government has even developed the ‘Three-for-One’ program for migrants, where for every dollar that’s sent back through one of these ‘community bundles,’ the government matches it with two extra dollars for things like building a road or a sewer system.”
Germano found remittances to Mexico function like an economic stimulus.
“It’s like shooting money into the economy to get people spending,” he said.
By the end of the film’s production process, Germano said he thought there were easy answers in dealing with the issue of immigration.
“But the more cynical I get—and not in a bad way—but maybe more realistic, is that this is going to be an issue that’s solved over the generations partly due to lack of political will,” he said. “It seems that in the U.S., there is a resistance to actually creating a good policy and it’s born from the fact that policy makers are divided over what to do.”
The Republican party is often considered to be the party of business and national security, Germano said.
“So you have a Republican that’s thinking how to vote on immigration. On the one hand, they’ll say we should let in more immigrants and legalize more of them so that businesses can get the workers that they need. But that same Republican might have constituents that are concerned about change of American culture and the landscape of America and there are people who are resistant to that,” he said. “And there’s a similar story with Democrats. They have loyalty to working class but at the same time to lower class voters, so they’ll be torn between these two constituencies.”
This is why immigration reform under President Ronald Reagan in 1986 cracked down on the border more than ever in history, yet at the same time, legalized three million people, Germano said.
“And it’s why we up with an employer sanction regime, where we say to employers, you’ll get fined $10,000 if you hire an undocumented worker, but at the same time, it’s not up to you whether the workers documents are real or not. Essentially we pass immigration policies that conflict with each other and have no teeth,” Germano said.
Queens-based group Hispanos Causando Paniko (HCP), pioneers of Spanish-language Hip Hop in New York City, closed the event with a performance. Their songs, such as Medidas Drasticas, or Drastic Measures, speak to the struggles of Hispanic immigrants in New York.
The event was sponsored by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and the Center for International Policy Studies’ research unit on Migration, Gender and Development with support from the Fordham Deans’ Council.