"If Mexico wants a war, we should bomb them back to the Stone Age!" a middle-class white man screams from the screen, expressing the frustration of many people in his Long Island suburb. In the late 1990s, 1,500 Mexicans migrated to Farmingville, a community of 15,000, to seek work, inciting a stark divide in the mostly white community. Then, in the summer of 2000, two young white men attempted to murder two Mexicans.
The 2001 documentary Farmingville, screened last week at the First Congregational Church, explores the conflict surrounding immigration in the community. Meanwhile, the debate rages on nationwide. And in Memphis, where the Hispanic population is somewhere between 23,000 and 120,000, it's an issue that the Hispanic Business Alliance (HBA) of Memphis thinks needs more attention. After the screening, the Flyer talked with Andres Gallegos, Juan Romo, and Judy Babb, vice president, president, and executive director of HBA, respectively, to see where they think the issue is headed.
-- By Shea O'Rourke
Flyer: What made you choose to show this film?
Romo: It shows what's going on right now in the nation with the immigrant problem. ... I think the documentary is great because it shows both sides of the coin. You see the hate and the reaction to the hate.
Do you think the documentary is as relevant today as it was in 2001, when it was released?
Romo: I think it's basically the same because this problem is not solved yet. How the problem looks has changed, but the problem has been the same in some ways since the '40s. For example, people are here because they need jobs. We need to recognize that the economy needs all these people, otherwise the workers will not be here. And then I think there's something wrong with legislation that's not in tune with economic reality.
Why do you think the immigration debate is so heated?
Gallegos: The largest minority in the nation right now is Hispanics. They're obviously more noticeable, and the opposition and the hatred are becoming more noticeable. ... Some of the arguments that people in the film pose against illegal immigrants make a lot of sense. People are concerned for their security, for their families, and that's a concern that we understand. But when they say that getting these immigrants in our community means that our families will be raped or whatever, that isn't necessary.
What are the most pressing issues facing Memphis' Hispanic community?
Romo: Crime and security. Hispanics have been a large target for gangs. In one zip code near Hickory Hill, 60 percent of the crimes are against Hispanics. There's the health issue, too, because [illegal immigrants] don't have access to hospitals.
Babb: Also an issue is that the kids -- because they don't see many options -- are joining the Latino gangs.
Romo: Parents don't recognize the symptoms of being in a gang. And they don't realize what's going on with the kids because they don't speak English and the kids do.