Bullfrog Films is a small-scale film distribution company in rural Pennsylvania that is dedicated to works made by directors and screenwriters with a social conscience. I try to spread the word on their latest offerings since they generally have relevance to the struggle against capitalist exploitation. “East of Salinas” is a case in point. Aired originally on PBS, this fifty-three-minute documentary focuses on a family of undocumented farmworkers from Mexico who are struggling to survive against impossible odds in the town where John Steinbeck was born and where much of his fiction was set. The star of the film is a fourth grader named José who is a poster child for the intrinsic values of such people who are demonized as rapists, gangsters and drug dealers by Donald Trump. José loves school, respects his parents, and puts up with all sorts of indignities with great aplomb given his youth.
The fourth grade teacher is Oscar Ramos, who like José grew up in a family of undocumented farmworkers. From an early age Ramos had a burning ambition to be a schoolteacher. Watching him inspire and challenge a class made up of children like José is one of the film’s greatest pleasures, even if much of it leaves you with a feeling of bitterness over how poor people have to put up with terrible living conditions, job insecurity and the constant threat of la migra. These are people who work 10 to 12 hours a day chopping lettuce so that you can enjoy a nutrient-free salad with dinner, while they are often forced to survive on rice and beans dispensed by church pantries.
Director Laura Pacheco, a trained anthropologist, gave an interview to PBS that while not mentioning Donald Trump offered one of the main reasons this documentary should be shown in classrooms around the country now:
I think East of Salinas should be required viewing for every candidate! Immigration is indeed such a hot topic now – and finding a path towards citizenship for the 11 million undocumented is more important now than ever. But what we really hope is that people who see the film are able to put aside their politics for an hour and settle into Jose’s story. His hope for his future is heartwarming.
There are 2 million kids like Jose in America. They all want to contribute and make their communities a better place. America is full of opportunities and I hope after seeing East of Salinas, the door to providing these opportunities to kids like Jose will open a bit wider. I think because we’ve focused on one story and stayed away from polarizing politics, the film can be used to encourage a different conversation around immigration reform.
For rental information to institutions and individuals, go to http://www.bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/eosa.html