Friday, January 15, 2010

New Books, Jewish Film Festival, Sheepherders


This week the spotlight is on two new books dealing with aspects of immigration.

[publisher blurbs]

Black Alley

Mauricio Segura
, translated by Dawn Cornelio
Biblioasis, May 2010

In the Côte-des-Neiges area of Montreal, the first stop for many new immigrants, live people of more than 100 nationalities. Marcelo, the sensitive son of Chilean refugees, and Cléo, a shy boy from Haiti, find friendship on the track, winning a major relay race together. Years later, in the same streets, two violent gangs, the Latino Power and the Bad Boys, confront each other, and their leaders must decide whether they will be united by their childhood friendship, or divided by race.... A seminal statement about multicultural societies, this brilliantly constructed, deeply felt novel set off a controversy when it was first published in French. Its appearance in English is a literary event not to be missed.

Mauricio Segura was born in Temuco, Chile in 1969 and immigrated to Quebec with his parents as a child. The author of two novels and a book about French perceptions of Latin America, Segura lives in Montreal, where he is well known as a journalist and commentator on immigrant issues.

Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing
Edited by Ilan Stavans
Library of America, October, 2009

Immigration is the essential American story. From London or Lvov, Bombay or Beijing, Dublin or Dusseldorf, people have come to America to remake themselves, their lives, and their identities. Despite political obstacles, popular indifference, or hostility, they put down roots here, and their social, cultural, and entrepreneurial energies helped forge the open and diverse society we live in. The history of American immigration has often been told by those already here. Becoming Americans tells this epic story from the inside, gathering for the first time over 400 years of writing—from 17th-century Jamestown to contemporary Brooklyn and Los Angeles—by first-generation immigrants about the immigrant experience. In sum, over 80 writers create a vivid, passionate, and revealing firsthand account of the challenges and aspirations that define our dynamic multicultural society.

In nearly 100 selections—poems, stories, novel excerpts, travel pieces, diary entries, memoirs, and letters—Becoming Americans presents the full range of the experience of coming to America: the reasons for departure, the journey itself, the shock and spectacle of first arrival, the passionate ambivalence toward the old country and the old life, and above all the struggle with the complexities of America. Arranged in chronological order by date of arrival, this unprecedented collection presents a history of the United States that is both familiar and surprisingly new, as seen through the fresh eyes and words of newcomers from more than 40 different countries.

Ilan Stavans, editor, is the Lewis-Sebring Professor of Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. His books include The Hispanic Condition and On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language. He edited Isaac Bashevis Singer: Collected Stories (three volumes), also for The Library of America.


Museo de las Americas is a proud in-kind sponsor of the following films showing during the Denver Jewish Film Festival.

Denver Jewish Film Festival sponsored by Wagner Wealth Management runs February 11-20, 2010.

All films screen in the Shwayder Theatre at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center at the JCC, 350 South Dahlia Street, Denver, CO
Tickets for individual films are $9.50/General Admission or $8.50/JCC Members, Students, & Seniors
(303-316-6360 or
Festival passes are available at a significantly discounted price.


The Fire Within: Jews in the Amazonian Rain Forest
Post Film Discussion with director Lorry Salcedo Mitrani

Sunday, Feb. 14
6:15 pm

Director: Lorry Salcedo Mitrani
2008/USA/Peru/60 minutes
English and Spanish with English subtitles

Of all the far flung places on earth, who would believe the Jewish Diaspora extended to a remote village in the Amazonian jungle of Peru? The great rubber boom of the late nineteenth century attracted fortune hunters and adventure seekers from all over the world, including a handful of Moroccan Jews. Some of these men stayed in the tiny village of Iquitos, Peru, where they married indigenous women and started families. Over the course of the next hundred years, these families retained vestiges of their Jewish heritage, including surnames like Cohen and Khan, even as they adopted local practices and beliefs. The Fire Within tells the remarkable story of this community's attempt to unite with the global Jewish community, an effort that explores the deeply nuanced question of what makes a Jew.


Camera Obscura (La Camara Oscura)

Monday, Feb. 15
7:30 p.m.

Director: María Victoria Menis
2008/Argentina /86 minutes
Spanish & Yiddish with English subtitles

This exquisite Argentine film derives its title from the earliest from of photography. As with the invention of photography, this film challenges us to "see" and observe. Gertrudis, born at the end of the 19th century was considered an ugly baby and an unattractive child. She grows into an insignificant and invisible woman, virtually ignored by all, and is lucky to marry well. A dedicated wife and mother, Gertrudis fills her home, and the life of her family with beauty. Her flower arrangements, gardening, meals, and the clothes that she sews all express her passion for beauty, yet these efforts are taken for granted by her family. When a photographer is invited to their home to take some family portraits, his life experiences, his background as a Surrealist artist, and his powers of observation enable him to "see" Gertrudis. This refreshing film is visually, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually engaging; a powerful film with a lasting impact.

Selected Awards & Festivals
Grand Prize, Pays de Caux International Latin Film Festival, 2009
Best Film, International Jewish Film Festival of Uruguay, 2009
Honorable Mention, Leipzip Argentine Film Festival, 2009


The organization I work for, Colorado Legal Services, has a Migrant Farm Worker Division, whose staff attorneys and paralegals advocate for and represent migrant workers in a variety of employment-related cases, from wage claims to working conditions to trafficking issues. This week, the Division released a report that details abuse of Colorado's sheepherders by their employers. The sheepherders are foreign workers employed through temporary visas. In Colorado, there are about 300 herders (from Peru, primarily) who obtain temporary employment in the United States through the H-2A Program. Because of their connection to that program, these workers are not provided with some of the basic protections other workers enjoy, and in Colorado they actually have less protections than migrant farm workers.

The report was compiled from interviews of 93 herders over the past two years by Migrant Division staff, volunteers, interns, and other advocates. Among some of the abuses noted are such things as no days off for more than a year; wages paid less than every month; no functional toilets; no ability to leave the ranches for any period of time; no visitors or other contact with the outside world; and confiscation of the workers' documents, such as passports, by their employers. Although the report has just been released, it has already attracted a great deal of attention. The Denver Post ran a short article, as did Westword; it was featured on the Huffington Report; and the Managing Attorney of the Division, Jennifer Lee, was interviewed on NPR. And, of course, racist and anti-immigrant opposition and nonsense have already popped up. Check out some of the comments to the Denver Post story, here. In any event, I'm proud of my colleagues at CLS who continue the good fight against overwhelming odds. I had to mention their excellent work here on La Bloga. You can read the report for yourself at this link:

That's it for this week - later.


msedano said...

how disgusting that slavery persists in the united states today, and in your back yard. will the report create justice for the shepherds, or merely a bit of discomfort for the slaveholders?

Anonymous said...

What's even sadder is that there still exist conditions in the world that make people willingly come to the sheepherding jobs and their incredibly harsh working conditions. If people were able to make a decent living at home they wouldn't have to "sell" themselves into or accept these terrible conditions

Anonymous said...

did you check out the comments of some of the people at the denver post? these are some of the same types that are willing to exploit the workers

Anonymous said...

Manuel - you have every reason to be proud of your organization. Thank you for the work of Colorado Legal Aid

Anonymous said...

to msedano - I'm not sure this report will even cause discomfort for the slaveholders; they are obviously so callous and have no concern for the human condition - but who knows, the saying that the pen is mightier than the sword may be applicable here