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Farmingville (2004)

Bill Gibron

This searing documentary argues against the use of near-slave-level migrant labor, implying that the United States' economy would collapse without it. In making this case, the film indicts a first world population that doesn't want to do its own dirty work.


Farmingville

Director: Catherine Tambini
Cast: Israel Perez, Paul Tonna, Ed Hernandez, Margaret Bianculli-Dyber, Connie Hornick, Brother Joe Madsen, Mike Casimiro
MPAA rating: Unrated
Studio: PBS POV
Display Artist: Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini
First date: 2004
US DVD Release Date: 2004-11-02

America is a land of immigrants. Or, that's what we hear whenever the topic of today's illegal immigration comes up. But the link between the current muddle and the more or less orderly influx of foreign nationals from 1892 until 1924 is complicated by politics and personal agendas. It seems that the minute a community reacts against immigrants, enforcing local laws or demanding that the INS respond, they are accused of racism and bigotry.

Such is the case in Farmingville, New York. The sleepy suburb of New York City is home to 15,000 self-declared tolerant, hardworking, taxes-paying, God-fearing citizens. But when a wave of undocumented workers flood the town (under the pretense of readily available day labor), the typical tensions flare. The locals want the aliens gone, seeing the protection of their property and personal rights as a matter of freedom and patriotism. On the opposing side, well-meaning activists try to create a new social status for the illegals, arguing for their civil liberties. Soon, both these grassroots responses ignite passions, establishing a classic no-win scenario.

This situation is the disturbing, depressing subject of Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini's Farmingville, new to DVD from Docurama. This searing documentary argues against the use of near-slave-level migrant labor, implying that the United States' economy would collapse without it. In making this case, the film indicts a first world population that doesn't want to do its own dirty work. If the jobs weren't plentiful, laborers would not come. The problem results from U.S. laziness and lack of discipline.

At the same time, Sandoval and Tambini make clear that illegals are far from saints. They work off the books, contribute nothing to the tax base, and reside in America in direct contravention to established laws. But Farmingville repeatedly tosses such concerns aside. According to the pro-immigrant advocates interviewed, there is another, more insidious concept at work here: racism. This one word creates an instant us vs. them barrier. The locals are wrong and the activists look like saviors in socially conscious clothing.

True, the community movement does align itself with some hate-mongers, and finds it hard to differentiate between pro-American groups and wild-eyed white supremacists. But Farmingville uses such slip-ups as undeniable proof of prejudice. When malfeasant property owners cram 35 people into a single-family home, it's the city's fault. When laborers stand on a street corner, accosting passersby, it's those harassed who are blameworthy.

This dichotomy is highlighted in two early events. A drunk illegal is involved in a terrible DUI car crash, killing a local woman. He is charged and arraigned, but skips bail and disappears before trial, never to be heard from again. A few months later, two other aliens are taken to an abandoned building and almost beaten to death. A pair of teenagers with ties to white power organizations are charged, and upon conviction, sentenced to 25 years each for their horrendous hate crime.

Guess which story is constantly repeated during Farmingville's narrative? At every city council meeting, in any interview soundbite, whenever a talking head is taking the town to task for its apparent intolerance, the two battered men are mentioned and their hospital pictures are plastered across the screen. Interviewees describe their wounds in graphic, grotesque detail, eve as the film shows the racist tattoos worn by one of the felons.

And what of the Farmingville resident who was unlucky enough to be on the road with an inebriated immigrant? She earns a brief mention and a couple of newspaper clips. Otherwise, she is forgotten and her fugitive killer never mentioned again. The reason is crystal clear: she is not helpful for the film's pro-immigrants case. Sandoval and Tambini focus on the town's prejudice, even if the inference is indirect and logic unsound (the neo-Nazi teens are never directly linked to the town itself).

Farmingville makes the Caucasian population pay for even considering taking action against the immigrants. It never misses a chance to ridicule the townspeople, to place them in a bad light or belittle their seemingly genuine complaints. The illegals, on the other hand, seem hopeful and happy, striving to eke out a living. We never witness their lawlessness, though we do see a few scoff when an Asian woman offers them $7 an hour in wages. Instead, they form a soccer league, attending meetings that are part sports organizing and part rights rally, in scenes showing how productive they can be... as long as a football and a goal are involved.

Farmingville's suspenseful storyline, focused on a proposed hiring office for the illegals, might make it easy to miss this deck-stacking. The community never stands a chance. Neither the film nor the 10 minutes or so of outtakes that make up the sole bonus on the DVD offer any sense of balance. We lose sight that we are witnessing a clear violation of federal law.

Farmingville is just one small suburb in the middle of Long Island wrestling with a new population it didn't ask for, a problem it can't resolve, and an identity it can't shake. The immigrants may assimilate or be driven out, but the town will always be known now for its intolerance. This is apparently part of the new American Dream.

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