‘Harvest of Empire’ explores immigration

The documentary film, “Harvest of Empire” (2012) was screened Sept. 4 at Richland, part of a three-day event that included an on-campus activity and a community conversation held Sept. 6 in Fannin Performance Hall.

The film, by Peter Getzels and Eduardo Lopez, is based on a book by Juan Gonzalez. It covers the history of U.S. involvement in a number of countries, including Guatemala in 1954, Cuba in 1961 and the Dominican Republic in 1965. Puerto Rico, which has remained a part of the United States since the war with Spain in 1898, was never granted independence. The film cites the exodus of Cubans soon after the ousting of Fulgencio Batista in 1959 and again in 1980 in what is referred to as “Marielitos exodus.”

Mexico, lost most of its northern region to the United States prior to the mid-1800s, because of the Mexican-American War. There is a saying: “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.” Interestingly, the filmmakers point out that since 1820 the largest group of legal immigrants to the United States have been Mexican. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, it is estimated that a million people were deported to Mexico, 60 percent of whom were United States citizens.

The film made the point that many of those coming to the U.S. from other countries are not just coming to seek a better standard of living, rather many are leaving their countries of origin in fear for their lives. There is also suffering because of the family separation when they migrate. One parent will come to the U.S. and leave the rest of the family for a while. The film also highlights the cruelty of deporting undocumented parents of children born in the U.S.

Gonzalez, author of the book “Harvest of Empire,” said in the film, “They never teach in school that the huge Latino presence here is a direct result of our own government’s actions in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America - actions that forced millions from that region to leave their homeland and journey north.”

Another argument offered in the film is that once Americans are informed of the situation, they will act to remedy it.

Neither argument may stand up to scrutiny.Experts on foreign policy disagree about what course of action should be taken in response to the economic, political, human rights and national security issues presented in the film. To blame the United States for problems in Latin American countries is over simplification at best.

As with many good documentaries, “Harvest of Empire” takes a viewpoint and enlightens us as to many historical facts that support its main thesis.

The film is available on YouTube. The section on El Salvador is really heart wrenching.