Sin Nombre and Gomorrah

Community Organizing Immigration Reform International

New Orleans We saw two back-to-back powerful movies, Sin Nombre and Gomorrah, both of which spoke profoundly and movingly to our work and why it is so life-and-death to our people.  Sin Nombre was an extra treat because the writer and director, Cary Fukunaga, was in the audience and answered questions at the end of the film.

SN is a beautiful movie that dramatically portrays the immigrant trail from Honduras in Central America riding the rails through Mexico to the Texas border crossing at Reynosa.  A deported father is making his way back to his new family in New Jersey and takes the young woman who is now his daughter on the trip.  A gang originally Salvadoran is the other piece of this story since they prey on the traveling immigrants adding an additional level of fear and violence to the constant battle for survival of these economic refugees heading for estades unidos.

Gomorrah leeches out every last bit of romanticism that any may have had about the work of the “mafia” in Italy.  This movie is brutish and almost stark and colorless in the drab and defeating way it portrays life in the huge apartment blocks dominated by poverty, unemployment, crime, and drugs and therefore ruled in its own way by these criminal clans with only the slightest sense of any code.

In both movies it seems almost inescapable to conclude that life for the poor and powerless in these very different countries in Europe and Central America has virtually no value to anyone.  The movies though very different in outlook (there’s actually a “happy” ending of sorts in SN?) also make it hard to conclude that there is much hope that anything anytime or anyway soon is going to be any different.  Both movies are like a staggering punch in the face.

I felt I had to go see Gomorrah since we had agreed to help Professor Ken Reardon and organizers in Sicily with their organizing problem there in any even larger housing development that the mafia has squatted in order to see if there’s an organizational “answer” to the dilemma for the poor and working families caught in this crossfire between government, mob, and the desperate need for housing.  The whole movie was an ice cold shower of reality that forces the plans our plans for anything in Sicily to have to toughen up so that they are more than platitudes and bromides without meaning.

SN is lighter in some ways though the dread of death and violence lies under every scene.  For every light moment in which Mexicans in the countryside toss oranges up to the top of the train to the immigrants, there is the continual danger of the train and toll it takes, as well as the fact that all of these travelers are easily victimized, robbed, raped, and killed without names or numbers as they seek a better, more hopeful life.  One movie may be saying that this is no way to deal with criminals and that no one is really dealing with criminals, while the other says that but also says that the lack of immigration policy is a scourge on all of the countries of the Americas, including the United States.

It is amazing how clueless many still are.  The well meaning New Orleans audience at Canal Place applauded Sin Nombre and its young director with polite enthusiasm.

One well meaning question struck me more than others as staking out the inestimable distance of the gap between these well intentioned viewers and the reality of migrants and the poor around the world.  A woman respectfully asked Fukunaga whether his crew had “planted” all of the garbage strewn everywhere along the train tracks at every place the immigrants huddled to hobo along the route.  He laughed as he answered, that “no,” all of the garbage was part of what was normal in this experience and never part of the task list.

Indeed!  Had the director been making another movie the camera would have easily fallen on the cartoneros or reciclidades who would have been staying in Mexico City or any of these train stops along the way and making a living from this ever growing trash heap.

The question revealed how far the world of even New Orleans, hardly on anyone’s list of the worlds’ cleanest cities from the everyday reality of poverty and peril in the rest of the world.  With Fukunaga we can agree that trash is the least of the problems here, almost past notice and beyond comment.