Documentary Examines Immigrant Impact on Education, Politics

Wasserman Dean leads discussion with filmmaker, subjects of “Latino: The Changing Face of America.”

At a UCLA screening of the 2016 film, “Latino: The Changing Face of America,” Wasserman Dean Marcelo Suárez-Orozco delineated the far-reaching impact of the fastest growing demographic in the United States. In a conversation with the film’s creator Roxanne Frias and two of her documentary’s subjects on Oct. 3 at UCLA’s James Bridges Theater, Suárez-Orozco noted that, “America’s 56 million Latinos, one-third of whom are under 18, are America’s changing face and America’s future.”

“How the transformation of the United States will impact America’s political, social, economic, and cultural future is of course, a fundamental question moving forward,” he said. “Latinos now represent the second largest country other than Mexico. The Latino GDP [in the U.S.] today is larger than the GDP of all Latin American countries, at about a trillion dollars.”

“Latino,” which has been shown in 17 countries, follows the stories of immigrant families and youth in California, Texas, and Iowa through the perspectives of education, generational status, migration, and other issues. Frias, whose project was funded by a French-German channel, noted that her backers “saw that this was not just an American story.”

“They saw this as something that countries could identify with,” she said. “We’re having the largest mass movement of people since World War II. Every country can identify in one way or another.”

Frias’s audiences have included schoolchildren and teens who come from the same backgrounds that she and the subjects of “Latino” come from. The first in her family to go to college, she was inspired while in film school at Stanford, to tell the stories of her mother and father’s own respective histories as Mexican Americans raised in East L.A. However, after President Obama’s second election, she began to become aware of the importance of the Latino vote and shifted her focus to document the burgeoning demographics and their impact on the national economy, education, and political landscape.

“My personal story with my family remained kind of the underlying rhythm, connection,” said Frias. “But the bigger story is about this demographic wave.”

“Latino” includes the story of Hector Reyes, who was a senior at Applied Technology Center High School in Montebello during its production. Reyes took part in the panel discussion and shared how the experience of making the film revealed to him some unknown parts of his family’s history.

“One of the things you didn’t see because it was cut, was my father’s story and how he came to Mexico and what life was like when he came over here,” said Reyes. “My father spoke about what it was like to come over here and leave his family behind. My father was one of nine children, so you can imagine how many family members he had to leave behind when he was 16, when he became old enough to come here and work.

“One of the things I learned was how essential immigrants are to the United States economy. Citizens from Mexico come here to America and shop here. Those who do work are taxed, but they also perform a role in society. That’s something that isn’t really touched upon in political discourse. They never talk about the benefits that immigrants give – they only focus on the negative and talk about how they are criminals or stealing jobs.”

Reyes recounted his own upbringing and noted that he has to study and go to college to improve his chances and his family’s lives.

“I saw a documentary that said that immigrants were the slave class of America and I believe that’s true, because they do the jobs that no one else wants to do,” he said. My father works six days a week, more than eight hours a day. Who would want to do that? It’s manual labor. He drives a truck but he has to unload everything. When I was younger, I’d work with him. I’d see how difficult it was for him.”

“When it comes to immigrants, I feel very attached to the difficult stories that they have because I know how difficult it is. I’m not an immigrant myself, but I know the stigma that they have. They’re embarrassed to go out but they shouldn’t be. They’re functioning just like you and I are – they should be [praised] for that.”

Arthur Revueltas, who served as deputy superintendent of the Montebello School District when “Latino” was filmed, noted the fact that the current wave of mass immigration is history repeating itself and that embracing it would lead to a positive outcome.

“Our political leaders follow the reality that we are creating,” said Revueltas, who retired recently after 42 years in the Montebello School District. “This story has happened many times before. There have been immigrants in this country. They’ve been absorbed and they change the country, when somebody figured out it was a good thing.

“You can’t fight the fact that it’s a trillion dollar economy. If you’re worth a trillion bucks, you’re not going to disappear. Nobody, nothing – the president, Congress – can change the economics of the situation. And the bottom line in this country – [is that] money talks.”

Suárez-Orozco, who is the co-director of the Institute for Immigration, Globalization, and Education at UCLA, commented on the film’s “contrasts between the life of work, the devotion to family, and the political discourse on immigration in our country,” and underscored the potential impact of 27 million eligible Latino voters in the U.S. who may participate in November’s presidential election.

“We think in terms of the cultural complexity of the Latino presence in the United states; we think of the economic imperative that the Latino origin population represents to the nation,” he said. “We have an intuitive sense that without a happy future for Latinos, there can’t be a happy future for the United States.”

Suárez-Orozco was interviewed last month by Univision on the symbolism of Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S. To view, click here.


Above: Wasserman Dean Marcelo Suárez-Orozco (at far left) in conversation with (L-R) Roxanne Frias, director of “Latino: The Changing Face of America”; Hector Reyes, a former student at Applied Technology Center High School; and Arthur Revueltas, former deputy superintendent of the Montebello School District, following a screening of Frias’s 2016 documentary.