In “Farmingville,” Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini view the tensions between property-owning residents and undocumented aliens in a suburban Long Island community as emblematic of national controversies over immigration issues. Sincere but unexceptional docu will be greeted with more respect than enthusiasm on fest circuit prior to PBS airing.
Throughout the 1990s, hundreds of Mexican illegal aliens seeking day labor flocked to the traditionally Anglo hamlet of Farmingville. Because of its location in the precise middle of Long Island, the town is easily accessible to contractors for labor intensive businesses (nurseries, construction firms, etc.) throughout the region. By the end of decade, new arrivals accounted for 10% of Farmingville’s population.
Longtime Farmingville residents bitterly complain in on-camera interviews about the effects of the immigrant influx: Rental homes overcrowded with 20 or more Mexican residents, street corners overrun with workers awaiting contractors, parking lots filled with workers who taunt Anglo women with catcalls and wolf whistles.
On the flip side, pic records Mexican workers’ complaints of harassment — and worse — by hostile locals. In September 2000, two Mexican day laborers are beaten and nearly killed by angry Anglos. In wake of this hate crime, immigrants and sympathetic local politicos seek to defuse the situation by proposing the construction of an employment center to get workers off street corners.
But local forces led by high school teacher Margaret Bianculli-Dyber rally against the center, insisting its construction will attract even more unwelcome newcomers. Representatives of national immigration control groups make their way to the Long Island community, eager to lend support (and, obviously, exploit local events for their own agenda). Mexicans also seek outside support from pro-immigrant groups as the battle over the employment center becomes a politically charged symbol in eyes of activists on both sides.
Bianculli-Dyber and other anti-immigrant activists passionately argue Farmingville homeowners should not be labeled racists for defending their way of life. But pro-immigrant forces are equally forceful in counter-arguments while pointing to racist leanings of some outside agitators supporting Farmingville residents.
Although Tambini and Sandoval make admirable attempts at balance, pic’s emphases suggest their primarily goal is a sympathetic depiction of downtrodden undocumented workers. It’s revealing that, while much attention is paid to despicable hate crime, only fleeting mention is made of another tragedy: A drunken Mexican driver kills a young Anglo mother in an auto mishap, then disappears while free on bail.
Looking at the bigger picture, pic contends local problems in Farmingville are the direct result of muddled (if not hypocritical) national policies regarding enforcement of immigration and labor laws. However, many arguments about illegal immigration that rage during the pic seem archaic in the wake of 9/11. Pic would have been more compelling with at least token acknowledgement that the ongoing war on terror has ignited even more polarizing debates over the need to control borders and limit undocumented “outsiders.”