Farmingville

Farmingville
Directors: Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini

NVG9661-03.jpgIf you were to ask me my opinion on illegal immigration, I really wouldn’t know where to begin. This isn’t something that affects me in any direct way (that I know of), and to be honest I just haven’t really thought about it. In fact, I’m not that crazy about documentaries that analyze such social/political climates. I guess that’s just my own ignorance. However, I do enjoy a good debate, especially when the line between right and wrong are blurred. Farmingville does analyze the social/political climate of one small American town, but it does it from a blue collar level through the eyes of people that simply want what’s best for their families, whether they’re from New York or Mexico.

In the late 90’s, a group of some 1, 500 Mexican immigrants moved into the small suburban town of Farmingville. This may be a common occurrence in the southern border towns, but for the 15,000 residents of this Long Island, New York community, the sudden increase in population didn’t go unnoticed. When these ‘undocumented immigrants’ began appearing on street corners looking for work, the townspeople took action. Some stood on the opposite side of the road, snapping photos and shooting video of the Mexicans soliciting work from contractors looking for reliable and trustworthy workers. One contractor, who remained anonymous for the film, justifies hiring these workers simply because his past employees, young Caucasian citizens of Farmingville, simply were not interested in the physically demanding work. After two weeks they’d lose interest and stop showing up. The illegal immigrants were better workers and willing to do whatever it takes to make money to support themselves and their families. The contractors claimed that this was a positive thing for the community’s economy.

farmingville2.jpgMargaret Bianculli-Dyber, an outspoken Farmingville citizen, decides to take action and helps form the group Sachem Quality of Life (SQL), blaming the Mexican workers for causing noise and other disturbances in her otherwise peaceful community. At the same time, Ed Hernandez of Brookhaven Citizens for Peaceful Solutions and Brother Joe Madsen rally for the rights of the workers, claiming that deportation is simply not a practical or realistic solution. When the idea of building a hiring hall is brought before the city council, tempers in the community flare, eventually leading to intolerance and violence. Many of the workers report being pelted with rocks and run off the roads on their bikes. Two young men were lured into a basement under the false guise of work and were attacked from behind and nearly killed by two white men, one of whom was covered in white supremacy tattoos. On the other side of the story, some townspeople complained of the Latino men harassing women and even committing acts of rape. As protests continue, both sides make pretty reasonable cases in favour of their opinions. But as expected, logical debate and practical thinking is overcome by raw emotion. Those against the decision to build a hiring hall are accused of racism, when the majority of them are legitimately concerned about their jobs and families. Those in favour sympathize with the hardworking men, claiming they would do whatever it takes to support their families if they were in a similar situation.

The film is handled with great care by directors Carlos Sandoval and Catharine Tambini, who lived in Farmingville for a year while filming this crisis. Both sides of the issue are given their chance to express their opinions and feelings. In the end, I would say I fell on the side of the Mexicans, but not without trepidation. Both sides made some pretty good points, but I think some of the fears that the citizens of Farmingville expressed were sometimes unjustified and simply uneducated. Mothers would talk about the safety of their children, as though the Mexicans were more capable of criminal acts. Farmingville is an unbiased and intimate look at a how illegal immigration brought out the best and the worst in one small suburban town and its people.

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