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English filmscript


Watsonville, California. A small town south of San Francisco. A perfectly normal Sunday morning in September. Things are quiet in the oldest cafe in town. They say that back in the old days, it used to be full around this time. Maybe a lot of people have gone to the beach today. Some have gardening to do ... or just want to sit in the park ... Apparently not such a normal Sunday after all.

A sea of red flags and a slogan: "Si, se puerde - yes, we can!" Thousands of Mexican-Americans are on the march. Workers from the strawberry farms around Salinas and Watsonville. The demonstration has been organized by the United Farm Workers Union. They are demanding contracts from the farm owners, higher minimum wages and better working conditions.

The union leaders, Arturo Rodriguez and Dolores Huerta, are fighting to raise more support for the union cause among fellow workers of Mexican origin. Many fear that they will lose their jobs if they join the union. The rest of the population doesn't seem particularly interested.

Monday morning: the pickers have been at work since seven o'clock. Uphill, downhill, always bent over, they quickly pick the strawberries with just the right ripeness, not too red, but not too green either. After all, they have to survive the long trip to Japan.

The strawberries are not just tossed into the boxes, but are systematically arranged, like a 3D puzzle - it all has to look neat and attractive. Foremen check everything, under the surface too. The women wear scarves over their mouths and noses, to protect themselves from dust and insecticides.

Tomas Rocha arrives to load up the first boxes. Tomas is actually a foreman, but he is helping out as a driver for now.

Every box that is OK means a hole in the punchcard. For every hole, 65 cents is added to the basic hourly wage of $4.50. That way, a fast picker can make up to $6.50 an hour. This is then considered a legal wage. If a contratista, or agent, is involved, there's no limit downwards.

Twelve thirty, lunch break. A vendor brings tacos, tortillas and enchiladas. The pickers still have six hours to go. Only younger people can last very long on this job.

The monocultures are prone to pests. Insecticides are sprayed regularly within view of the pickers. No consideration is given to the workers' health. Tomas brings the second load for refrigerated storage in Watsonville.

Be it strawberries or lettuce, 100% of the harvesting is done by Mexicans or Americans of Mexican origin. Few of the farm workers have steady jobs; it's work according to demand. At the end of one harvest, many move on to the next.

Nowhere in the world do artichokes ripen as well as they do here in California. "That's because of the damp Pacific breeze", say the farmers. The Central Valley is a successful fruit and vegetable growing area not just because of its climate. Its products are industrially processed. The soil must be carefully prepared.

Slope and angle are precisly calculated - important for irrigation. Then come, ploughing and spraying. The fungicides ferment under the plastic foil for seven days. And now, row upon row of neatly laid out hills are ready for strawberry planting. These measures, the climate and the intense watering have made it possible to extend the strawberry season to nine months.

Tomas is pulling into Watsonville, at the end of a day's work.

Tomas lives with his family in their own home, a typical American wooden house in a Mexican-American neighbourhood. Although they are well established in Watsonville, they do get a little homesick when they watch the videos of the last family gathering in their home town in Mexico.

Tomas: "I was nine, nine years and a half when I first came to the United States. That was in 1967. Well, actually we were staying only for 5 or 6 months here, just the season, the strawberry season, then we go back to Mexico. And stay another six months there and then when the season starts again, we came back to Watsonville."

Like so many, Tomas began work as a picker very early.

Tomas: "Yes, I started when I was around thirteen, thirteen years old. And during the summertime I helped my parents to work. So I couldn't attend school either, not even at the summertime."

Lorena: "It's hard. I went once just to go pick strawberries and there wasn't even an hour ... and I thought, 'No, I can't do this,' you know. And that's why he says, 'Well, you know, if you really want to go to school, you got to study ... and ... so you can become something, you know, later on in the future.'"

Cleothilde: "For me, the field work was routine. Every day the same, always the same. I came home tired, made something to eat for the children, and then all I wanted was quiet and sleep, to be rested for the same routine the next day."

The children have it better. They have time to make music, preferably Mexican.

Osvaldo: "This song talks about the guy and the woman and how the woman is kinda like a horse, the female horse. And it talks about ... like, the guy ... how you have to be, like, strong, and you have to be ... you can't be, like, afraid of nothing. You have to be strong."

"To be afraid of nothing" - this also goes for the Mexican- American youths who spend most of their time on the streets. This project, run by the City of Watsonville, offers young gang members an alternative. As long as they're here at Mark Davis', they're not involved in drugs, robbery or violence.

Watsonville looks like a typical American small town - but only from the outside. Inside, a very different music is playing.

Musica norteña: the music of the north, which originated in the tense relationship between Mexico and Texas: the most common theme of this music is the life of Mexican-Americans and their far-away land of origin. A lot of men first come alone and live without their families. Music and a few "Coronas" help fight the homesickness and the loneliness.

Outside of Watsonville, set back from the street, we find this migrant camp, first destination for illegal immigrants who seek shelter with relatives or friends. For many families who actually wanted to stay for only a short time, it has become a permanent residence. Luis Espinoza and his family have already lived here for five years. The six of them share two rooms. Rent: $500.

Luis: "The rent is very high. Everything is very expensive. We struggle along. We help each other in our families. If one of the children is sick and needs to go to hospital, they won't treat it here, because we don't have any money. The weekly pay is just enough for food. There is almost never any leftover. It is very hard for poor people to survive in this country."

This week, $195 has to be enough.

Luis: "Yes, this is how we live and struggle along. And then people accuse us of helping ourselves to welfare and food coupons. If we did, we wouldn't be living like this. This is where we sit, and watch TV. The kitchen is in the corner, and this is where we sleep. The strawberry season is over. Those of us with legal papers get unemployment benefits. The illegal immigrants get nothing. They aren't registered anywhere, they don't get any food coupons or welfare. They don't get anything. They don't count. We legal immigrants actually don't count either. This is how the situation is for us. If the situation in Mexico were better, many would not even come here."

Mrs Espinoza: "Hopes? Well, to work, to have a house for the children. Take a look at this. It makes you sad."

The children have to be on the main street at 4 p.m. Twice a week they get picked up by bus right after school.

For almost thirty years a Catholic order has been providing extra-curricular activities for the children of Mexican immigrants. Father Jesse has got both the bus and the mob under control.

Flamenco, football, theatre, music: hundreds of children attend the Penny Club every day. Tomas' children are here too. Osvaldo and Juan Carlos play in the marimba band.

When you see only your work and your home for a long time, says Louis, you can almost forget you're in the middle of California. He's now on his way to Mexico for a visit with relatives. "Caution - people crossing". Many refugees have lost their lives trying to cross the 8-lane highway.

Only half an hour past San Diego we find the world's busiest border crossing: San Ysidro, just before Tijuana. Leaving the country is easy. Entering the country is not. So hundreds of thousands attempt to cross the border illegally, out in the wilderness. The officers of the Border Patrol try to stop them - a difficult undertaking, given 2000 miles of border. This metal fence protects only 14 miles, from the Pacific to the mountains.

But all this doesn't discourage people who don't have much to lose anyway. They wait for an opportune moment at night. Twelve years ago, Louis was in a similar situation.

Louis: "The first time we tried to enter the United States, we went over the mountains. After a short time, border guards arrested us and took us back to Tijuana. Soon after, we crossed the border again, were arrested again - altogether three times."

And so every day, a big cat-and-mouse game is played out, sometimes open and harmless, sometimes hard and dangerous. In his song "The Line", Bruce Springsteen sings about the human destinies on both sides. In the song, an important role is played by Marco Ramirez, a Mexican-born Border Patrol officer.

Ramirez: "I was raised in Guanajato, all my family resides in Guanajato. My name is Marco Antonio Ramirez. I am very proud of my heritage as a Mexican-American, but we must remember that first and most of all, I am an American citizen. I swore to uphold the law of the United States, but with all of that is still the pain of seeing your people, that they're leaving their country without a hope because the government doesn't give them hope. So that breaks your heart. But yet you have to still put it away and do your job the best that you can."

With the help of infrared devices, the illegal immigrants are detected - and the border guards guided towards them. One after another, they appear from out of the bushes. Two border guards on the left and right, three illegal immigrants in the middle. No, four.

The detainees are taken to headquarters, registered and searched for drugs. Those who are free of drugs, who do not appeal their deportation and who are not found in the computer to be repeat offenders, wait to be taken back to Mexico. About 1000 cases of shattered hopes tonight.

Tomas and his family have made it in the U.S. But sometimes they do feel homesick for Mexico.

Lorena: "There's a lot more liberty. Everybody usually knows you. I was surprised because I would ... first day we got there, you know, I would be walking around with my cousins or something and they would just say (in Spanish), "Oh, just like her dad, Tomas,"and I would be, like, "Oh yeah", you know, and I'm ... 'cause I didn't know the people ... It's peaceful over there."

Tomas: "I know how life is in Mexico. And, you know, I just want the best for my children. So I guess it's more convenient to stay for a while, so they can have better opportunity. "For a while" means maybe for a long time, long period. Or maybe for life!"