Define American‘s mission is to engage people in the immigration debate using the stories of those being impacted. As a way of carrying the conversation, the immigration advocacy organization is hosting a film festival May 11 through May 13 in Charlotte, N.C. The festival will showcase different documentaries that touch on the myriad aspects surrounding the immigration and race debate in the U.S. Here are a few of the documentaries that will be shown at the Define American Film Festival.
“Residenté” follows Calle 13 rapper, René Pérez, a.k.a. Residenté, as he travels the world to discover his roots. After having a DNA test, Residenté plans a trip around the world to trace where his family is from and tell the stories of locals in the places he visits. The experience is deeply connected to an album he created that incorporates all parts of his ancestry including languages, instruments, and folklore to tell a complete story about who Pérez is as a person and the connection shared by all people in the world.
2. Forbidden: Undocumented And Queer In Rural America
“Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America” explores the intersectionality of being both queer and undocumented in a rural community in North Carolina. The documentary follows the life of Moises Serrano as he juggles life on the fringe through the Real ID Act of 2005, getting accepted to college and figuring out his finances to afford school, love, and the fragile balance as a DACA beneficiary. The Real ID Act of 2005 came when Serrano was about to graduate high school with a hope of going to college. The act made it so undocumented people were not allowed to have driver’s licenses or government issued ID’s which effectively blocked undocumented people from going to school, getting work, and driving a car.
There isn’t a trailer for this documentary but the title kind of gives you all you need to know. “Dolores” documents the life, fight, and experience of one of the most iconic activists among Latinos, Dolores Huerta. The documentary dives into her time with the farm workers in Delano, Calif. as well as her teaming up with the iconic women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem. The documentary also gives viewers a look into her personal life including loves, children, and her home life.
4. White People
Jose Antonio Vargas, the founder of Define American, is also having a film showing during the film festival. Titled “White People,” Antonio Vargas along with MTV made a documentary exploring race in America from the young, white perspective. The provocative documentary makes people uncomfortable as they tackle the issue of race in America during a conversation with young white Americans and how they navigate the touchy subject.
In the ’90s, members of the LBGTQ community were finally starting to find some tolerance in mainstream culture. Most major cities around the world had a gay night scene and many small communities were being formed by lesbians and gay men. Unfortunately, LGBTQ people still encountered bigotry and homophobia regularly. From everyday altercations to murderous attacks, being gay in the ’90s was still dangerous.
That didn’t stop Elizabeth Ramirez from coming out and living her life as a gay woman. Although her hometown of San Antonio Texas was very conservative at the time, Ramirez was happily involved with her girlfriend, Kristie Mayhugh. The two were building a happy life together along with their close friends, Cassandra Rivera, and Anna Vasquez.
Unfortunately, devastating accusations would rock San Antonio and cost each women years of their freedom.
This is the story of the San Antonio Four and the horrible accusations and homophobia that led to their incarceration.
The events that led to their imprisonment started innocently enough. The four women were staying together at the time. It was 1994 when they welcomed Ramirez’s young nieces into their home for a weeklong stay. After the visit, the girls’ father went to the police and reported a truly horrific story.
According to the father, Javier Limon, the girls had been sexually abused and tortured by the women. More than that, his accusations claimed they had been gang-raped in a Satanic ritual and “indoctrinated into a lesbian lifestyle.” The nieces were only 7 and 9 years old at the time.
The girls were interviewed several times and gave inconsistent statements with varying details. Physical examination found no major signs of sexual assault. However, prosecutors used child abuse specialist, Dr. Nancy Kellogg, to argue the opposite. In now-defunct testimony, Dr. Kellogg blamed common vaginal wear on abuse by the San Antonio women.
The San Antonio police department claimed that the women’s sexuality was not relevant to the investigation. Yet, their actions argue the opposite.
This case was during the Satanic Panic of the 1990s. The public was obsessed with news of Satanic rituals and cults during this time. Homosexuality was often linked to these reports of rituals and sex magic. It was also a common thought at the time that homosexuals were more likely to sexually harm children. Had the four women not been recently-outed lesbians, the police more than likely wouldn’t have pursued the complaints.
Likewise, had the women not been lesbians, the complaints probably never would’ve been made to begin with. Limon, the girls’ father, was romantically interested in Ramirez. The San Antonio man was her brother-in-law but he had expressed desire for her before. Notably, when she was just a teenager. Ramirez had rejected him before coming out. However, her happy relationship with Mayhugh probably encouraged Limon to retaliate against the women.
Sadly, the San Antonio Four were tried and found guilty. They each received between 15 to 37 years in prison for a crime that had no proof.
It wasn’t until 2012 when any relief seemed likely for the jailed women. That year, one of Ramirez’s nieces recanted the allegations. Furthermore, she explained that her father, Limon, was to blame for the accusations. Her father, she said, threatened her and her sister as girls and continued the emotional abuse all their lives. This is what kept the San Antonio Four’s innocence a secret for so long.
In 2012, Vasquez was the first of the San Antonio Four to be released from prison. However, it was parole that released her, not her own innocence. It wouldn’t be until 2013 that the other three were released on bail while their guilt was reassessed. Later that same year, their sentences would be cut short and they would be declared innocent of all charges. The San Antonio Four were finally free.
Their struggle encouraged the documentary “Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four.” Now, you can stream the truth for yourself.
“Southwest of Salem” follows the redemption of the San Antonio Four. The documentary was released in 2016 but is now available to stream on both Hulu and Amazon Prime. It has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 100% Fresh and is scored 7.1/10 on IMDd.com. The documentary also won a Peabody Award and won “Outstanding Documentary” at the 2017 GLAAD Media Awards.
“Southwest of Salem” clearly deals with difficult themes. However, it’s an important documentary to see — especially as more cases of police and prosecutor misconduct become uncovered. If we know of the atrocities that have happened in the past, we can stop them from ever happening again.
If you are a Latino in the United States you probably have heard the name Dolores Huerta, or that of her political partner Cesar Chavez. These two authentic dynamos revolutionized the way in which migrant workers are treated. With Chavez, Huerta founded the National Farmworkers Association (now United Farm Workers or UFW). At age 89, she is still a civil rights activist and labor leader, and she, of course, is a fierce advocate for women’s rights. She is a true legend whose story should be taught in every classroom.
These are some facts about her amazing and impactful life!
1. Her full name is…
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Dolores Clara Fernández Huerta and she was born on born April 10, 1930. She was born in the mining town of Dawson, New Mexico, which helped shape her political ideals.
2. Her grandparents were Mexican migrants
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Her parents were Juan Fernández and Alicia Chávez. Juan was the son of Mexican migrants and worked as a coal miner in Dawson. He later worked with braceros (Mexican workers who went to the United States on a special visa to join the labor force) in Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming.
3. Her father’s stories made her think about the work that unions do for worker’s rights
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As often happens, political ideas tend to travel from generation to generation. Hearing her father’s stories, Dolores got in touch with the idea of unions, which in the case of Mexican and Mexican-American workers were used as a force against injustice. Her parents divorced and her father was a state legislator.
4. She was raised by her mom in a farming community
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A big part of Dolores’ political ideals has to do with farm work and what manual labor is truly worth. This is an echo of her childhood in Stockton, California, where she was raised by her mother. Her mom was a pillar of the community, a generous spirit for whom paisanos were family.
5. The family owned a hotel and a restaurant
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And Dolores’ mom would often give discounts or even free accommodation to struggling workers. She certainly led by example, and her impact was multiplied once Dolores found her political voice
6. She started her life as an activist when she was in high school
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When she was at the Stockton High School she was a majorette and member of numerous clubs.
7. A teacher graded her unfairly in high school, she considered it was racial bias
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She knew right there and then that she needed to fight for her rights and the rights of minorities. She got herself a teaching credential, and taught primary school, until…
8. She left her job as a teacher and became an activist, having witnessed injustices suffered by her students
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She is quoted as saying: “I couldn’t tolerate seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes. I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children”. Respect, sometimes change needs to start in the household and the field, rather than in the classroom, and Dolores identified that.
9. 1955: the year she started changing the world
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In 1955 Huerta helped activist Fred Ross kick off the Stockton Chapter of the Community Service Organization. She soon proved to be a force to be reckoned with. She soon took charge of the Stockton Chapter. In 1960 she co-founded the Agricultural Workers Association and in 1962 she got together with Cesar Chavez to found the National Farm Workers Association, which changed the lives of thousands of field workers and their families.
10. She was a master negotiator
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It was not easy in the 1960s to negotiate as a woman, let alone a woman of color. But that is just what she did in 1966, negotiating a contract between grape pickers and the Schenley Wine Company. It was the first time that farm workers argued for their rights with an agricultural business. Eso, chingaos!
11. She also organized the now famous Delano grape strike in 1965
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California is one of the largest producers of table grapes not only in the United States, but the entire world. Well, Huerta led a boycott against the grape industry to achieve collective bargaining, which was signed in 1970. Huerta was able to communicate the plight of farmers to consumers, also a first in American activism.
12. She has worked as a lobbyist for life-changing laws that have improved the lives of workers
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If you or a family member have taken the California driver’s test in Spanish, for example, you have Huerta to thank for. Laws like this have made California a much more inclusive society.
13. She has been arrested over 20 times
Credit: DxEy6z3VYAQLiNu Twitter. Digital image. Dolores Huerta
This is a result, of course, of her activism. These arrests have been the product of civil disobedience non-violent acts such as boycotts or strikes!
14. She is still an active political activist
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She serves in the boards of various progressive organizations, such as People for the American Way, Consumer Federation of California, and Feminist Majority Foundation.
15. She witnessed a major political assassination: Robert F. Kennedy’s
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As “Bobby” delivered his victory speech in the California presidential primary election, Dolores Huerta stood by his side. Moments later, on that fateful June 5, 1968, he would be shot.
16. She was once beaten severely by a policeman
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This happened in 1988, during a peaceful demonstration in San Francisco. She was protesting the platform of presidential candidate George H.W. Bush. She had broken ribs and her spleen had to be removed in an emergency surgery.
17. She won a lawsuit and guess what she did with the proceeds?
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Huerta being Huerta, she donated it for the benefit of farm workers. Her case also led to a reform in how San Francisco police deal with crowd control.
18. She established the Dolores Huerta Foundation in 2002
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The Foundation’s objectives: “community benefit organization that organizes at the grassroots level, engaging and developing natural leaders. DHF creates leadership opportunities for community organizing, leadership development, civic engagement, and policy advocacy in the following priority areas: health & environment, education & youth development, and economic development.” We are lucky to have people like her.
19. She has received numerous accolades in her lifetime
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Her awards include the Eugene V. Debs Foundation Outstanding American Award, the United States Presidential Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She is also in the National Women’s Hall of Fame, where she was introduced in 1993, the first Latina to achieve this.
20. Huerta had a relationship with Richard Chavez, Cesar’s brother
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The two never married, but they had four children. She had two previous marriages that ended in divorce.
21. Last but not least, she coined a very famous phrase…
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Sí se puede… yes we can. Wow.
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