Sunday, May 9, 2010

AZ Humanities Council's Border Film Festival

We attended the Border Film Festival at Tempe Center for the Arts this past weekend. Thank you to filmmaker and ASU professor Paul Espinoza (pictured) who showed 5 powerful films relating to the Mexican/U.S. border’s history all of which were his own productions. The first film, The Lemon Grove Incident, was filmed 25 years ago. It was a combination of documentary and traditional storytelling via feature film. It recounted the story of the Mexican American community's response to a 1930 school board attempt to create a segregated school for their children leading to America's first successful legal desegregation case. The Mexican parents hired an attorney and actually sued the local PTA. One of the local ten-year-old boys was the plaintiff. A post-film discussion facilitated by Dr. Luis Alvarez, of the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Alvarez was not only a visiting historian– he turned out to be the grandson of Dr. Robert Alvarez, the ten-year-old boy the case had centered around.

It was amazing to see how closely the story paralleled a twelve year old Jewish boy’s school experiences in our project, An Unbroken Chain: My Journey through the Nazi Holocaust. (We have optioned this book and are currently fundraising for the feature film, as you may know.) The logic of the PTA and their weak arguments about Americanization, English, and overcrowded schools immediately reminded one of Nazi Germany’s Nuremburg Laws.

In one of the memorable courtroom scenes, the plaintiff’s attorney demonstrates that the school board had never researched nor had no real grasp of what language the Mexican kids actually spoke. They were planning to send Mexican kids to the Mexican school “to learn English.” The lawyer helps the courtroom learn that not only were 95% of them United State citizens but that some of them grew up speaking English and didn’t even understand Spanish!

The second film was a documentary of the history of the Mexican American War. It was a good reminder that in fact, California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico, were, of course, part of Mexico before we, the U.S., stole the land away in that war.

Thank you to Paul and the Arizona Humanities Council for a terrific and timely event!

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