IU graduate's documentary explores immigration from the Mexican side
Roy Germano doesn't make policy recommendations in his film The Other Side of Immigration. Instead he gives viewers an up-close-and-personal look at the small towns in Mexico where opportunities are few and residents leave home -- sometimes for years -- to find work in the U.S.
"Empathy and understanding are the first steps to designing better policies," he said. "If we're pro-immigrant or anti-immigrant, we can all agree that what's going on now isn't working very well."
Germano, a 2001 Indiana University graduate with a degree in political science, shot, directed and edited the award-winning documentary and returned to Bloomington last week to screen the film and answer questions from an audience in Whittenberger Auditorium.
Based on more than 700 interviews with family members left behind by U.S.-bound migrant workers, The Other Side of Immigration illuminates the economic hardships that drive immigration, including the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement on farmers, a cycle of poverty exacerbated by government corruption, and social pressure to seek a better way of life.
Germano said he never gave much thought to immigration until he took a part-time job as a waiter in a Chicago restaurant while in graduate school. Most of the kitchen workers were undocumented immigrants. He made friends, but when he invited them to go out after work, they never accepted. "They had to go home," he said. "They couldn't be wasting money on drinks and food, they had to send it back to their families. And they had to get up the next morning" to work a second job.
The discovery led Germano to pursue a doctorate at the University of Texas. His research coincided with the filming, editing and production that culminated in The Other Side of Immigration, which was named a 2011 Notable Video by the American Library Association and has screened at film festivals, universities and conferences.
The film mixes interviews with Mexico residents, including former migrants, with footage of village life and facts about immigration. For example, immigrants sent $25 billion back to family members in Mexico in 2008; and one mile of border fence costs the U.S., on average, $4 million.
Interviewees talk about the impossibility of making a living from farming, given the low prices produced by free international trade. Carolina Corķa Rueda, caring for several young children, confesses that she worries constantly about her older children and her husband, who leave home to work in the U.S.
Germano said stepped-up border security hasn't kept Mexicans from migrating, but it has made the process dangerous and expensive. In the 1980s, he said, it cost $250 to be guided across the border. Now it can cost $2,500 to $5,000. Organized criminal gangs are deeply involved in the smuggling of migrants, and many people die crossing the Arizona desert after crossing in remote areas.
By the "perverse logic of border security," those who make it to the U.S. are reluctant to return home. "People say, 'Christmas, I'm going back, I'm going back,'" he said. "And they never do, because it's so hard to get back across."
He said visa quotas make it all but impossible for most Mexicans to work legally in the U.S. "When people say, 'Illegal is illegal, get to the back of the line' . . . Well, the wait in the line is 130 years," he said.
Germano is currently a visiting assistant professor of politics at the New School in New York City and speaks frequently about immigration issues at universities and conferences around the country. For more information about the director and the film, see www.roygermano.com.