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Film on Caravan for Immigrant Worker Rights Screens in L.A.

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by RocĂ­o Maya

Dozens of South East L.A community members gathered on Tuesday, April 11th at the Ricardo F. Icaza Workers’ Center in Huntington Park for the southern California premiere of The Long Ride, a documentary film on the 12-day journey taken by a group of 106 riders from Northern California to the nation’s capital in 2003.

Produced and directed by Valerie Lapin Ganley, the 77-minute, Spanish subtitled documentary details the caravan more than 900 immigrants and allies embarked upon from various states and cities across the country. Traveling by bus, the solidarity riders concluded their bold trek with a march onto the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. where they demanded that immigrant labor be treated with dignity. 

The cohort of activists known as the Immigrant Workers Freedom Riders (IWFR) sought to spark the birth of a new Civil Rights Movement for immigrant workers in response to the anti-immigrant sentiment that sprang from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  In the documentary, the ride culminates with a 100,000 person immigrant rally in Washington D.C., the largest event of its kind in history at the time.

Today, the IWFR continues to be a strong proponent of efforts to reform the broken and failing immigration system. Now a full-fledged immigrant advocacy organization, the group has become a leading national advocate for immigrant rights and equal enforcement of workplace standards. The free public screening was followed by a panel discussion that encouraged audience feedback from moviegoers who were visibly moved by the demonstrations of solidarity depicted in the film. The presenters were pleased to host the local premiere of The Long Ride only three days after its world premiere on April 8th at the Oakland International Film Festival.

As Lapin Ganley put it, her goals for the film shifted during post-production of the project, but her overall intent for the film was to educate immigrant communities about their rights and empower them to seek better working conditions.

“At first, the goal of the film was immigration reform, but you know what happened next,” said Lapin Ganley, whose previous documentary film, Shalom Ireland, traced the history of the small but politically and culturally significant community of Jews in Ireland.

“Now I feel like it’s a film that can be used to educate people and help build a social justice movement,” she said of her latest effort. She pointed to the blocking of pro-immigration legislation in 2004 during the Bush Administration by a Congress that continued to remain fiercely opposed to renewed immigration reform initiatives throughout the Obama administration.

Representatives of labor organizations like the United Food and Commercial Workers union say the Obama administration deported significantly more people than the Bush administration. And with the current administration ramping up immigration enforcement sweeps, it is more important than ever for the community to come together to protect our civil rights, said Rigo Valdez, Organizing Director for UFCW Local 770.

“We are seeing an era where our civil rights are under attack, our communities are being disrespected, but there is also hope because at the same time we are seeing our communities come together in spaces like this,” said Valdez. “You saw that in the caravan there were people from all over the world, Asians, Middle Easterners, gay people, people from all walks of life who belong to groups that Trump is attacking.”

“At the same time, the people have responded with actions like the Women’s March,”  Valdez added, underscoring the film’s current relevance.

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Brooklyn & Boyle is a print and online magazine dedicated to Art & Life in Boyle Heights and Beyond. The publication features Brooklyn & Boyle stories from the Greater Eastside LA arts scene, including but not limited to the neighborhoods of Boyle Heights, City Terrace, East LA, Lincoln Heights, El Sereno, South Pasadena, Cypress Park, Arroyo Seco, Highland Park, and Eagle Rock, places every bit as creative and cultured as one another while aware and active in support of authentic arts and creative projects which support community integrity and respect for the history and heritage of the many Eastside neighborhoods.

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