Monday, March 05, 2012

Guest columnist: Film Review by Jeanette Iskat de Aldana

Note: Daniel Olivas returns next week from travels into the southeast.

Under Arpaio
Pan Left Productions. Directed by J.M. Aragón.

by Jeanette Iskat de Aldana

Directed by J.M. Aragón, the feature length documentary, Under Arpaio, captures the day to day struggles faced by undocumented people in Maricopa county, Arizona. The film tells us the strong and justifiably angry stories about the ongoing fight to maintain safe spaces for people in the Arizona communities that are under a full scale attack by police and border authorities.

Tewa Women United and the Student Senate of Northern New Mexico College recently screened the Pan Left production of Under Arpaio. New film footage about the recent ethnic studies book ban was also shown. A panel discussion with the film's director and activists from organizations from Arizona and New Mexico followed.

Maricopa county sheriff Joe Arpaio imagines himself as a tough sheriff dealing with problems in his own strong way, a reborn John Wayne who believes that pink handcuffs and tent city concentration camps in brutal Arizona heat are actually a solution to the complicated issues of borders and immigration.

The film expertly reveals him to be an uneducated bully who doesn't write or read the books that bear his name, fully in the pocket of privatized prison corporations and banks like Wells Fargo that finance them.

Arpaio is revealed as a modern day "Bull" O'Connor, whose flagrant violations of civil and human rights grow more and more blatant as the film unfolds. Smear tactics, illegal searches and arrests, intimidation and human rights violations are all captured on film in images that bring the pain fully into the viewer's heart and mind.

The film footage is exceptional, captured over the space of several years. Aragón and his crew are regularly in the right place at the right time to get the shots that establish the truth. Lawyers, city council members and journalists outline extraordinary examples of violence, fear mongering and the pain being inflicted on all levels of the community.

The body of an undocumented man, tortured to death, is carried out, recorded only on a jail's CCTV camera, to be buried in a pauper's grave, unknown until activists found his family in Mexico. The lawyers recount tragic cases and speak of the tens of millions of dollars paid out in wrongful death settlements with grieving families. A Pulitzer Prize winning journalist speaks of repeated violations of ethical and legal standards, blatantly occurring in front of him without apparent fear of repercussion.

The film brings us along into the front lines of this war on communities of color. We see the face of one virulently racist man spewing nonsense into the camera at a day laborer job site, so close that you can feel the hate oozing from his pores, contrasted with the activist who holds down a daily vigil to keep people safe. We see two tiny children left on a curb, sobbing into cheap stuffed animals that police officers handed them as their mother was put into a car for questioning. We see activist after activist targeted, unlawfully detained and threatened.

It becomes fairly apparent that the presence of the film makers and their allies often serves a dual purpose, to document and to keep even more egregious actions in check. Pan Left, whose excellent slogan is "We give a darn", has empowered everyone in the affected communities the film unfolds in by putting cameras and 24-hour hot lines with their "Yo Soy Testigo" (I am A Witness) fully into place.

The truth outlined in this film is ultimately seen in the Department of Justice's belated investigation of Arpaio. The marches, filmed visits to the D.O.J., the documentation of repeated violations of the law and the subsequent revelation of hundreds of ignored cases of sexual abuse may produce indictments against Arpaio and his brute squads.

The full D.O.J. report can be read here:

The film is currently showing in screenings around the country. Pan Left is looking to show it in communities that are again under siege, like New Mexico and that old stalwart of institutionalized racism, Alabama, and in places where new incursions into this undeclared war are occurring.

New Mexico's governor Susana Martinez, herself the granddaughter of undocumented immigrants, has again been attempting to ram through a bill that would deny driver licenses to undocumented workers in New Mexico.

If that doesn't sound too bad, remember the first step Arizona took was taking away the ability for undocumented people in Arizona to get the licenses that allowed them to drive as safe and insured motorists.

Laws often start as small incursions, the removal of tiny freedoms, much in the way that Nazis banned books, then "degenerate" art and then, ultimately, people. Incursions are continuing into the rights of the undocumented and documented alike, as with the recent cancellation of ethnic studies in Arizona, a move that bans legal books from being studied by students.

Under Arpaio shows us that this country is under attack, not by immigrants, but by people who seek scapegoats for their fear. Instead of looking for solutions to immigration issues, like the "Dream Act", we are told to hate and fear "the other". Organizations like Pan Left, Puente Arizona and Somos Un Pueblo Unido continue to fight the good fight, on all fronts. It is up to all of us to support them, with our bodies and our actions, and to stand firmly for what is right.

For more information on Pan Left:

For more information on Under Arpaio:

For more information on Puente Arizona:

For more information on Somos Un Pueblo Unido:

For more information on the Dream Act:

Abouth La Bloga's Guest:
Jeanette Iskat de Aladana is a painter, poet and activist who recently moved from Los Angeles to rural New Mexico.

She was last in La Bloga as one of the Poets Against S1070.

She believes in clean water for everyone and that she cannot be human by herself.

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