Documentary “Maquilapolis” about factory workers

“We are just objects, objects of labor,” says a factory worker in the documentary “Maquilapolis.”On Feb. 6, students and faculty ventured to Bryan Jr. Auditorium to watch “Maquilapolis,” a documentary about women factory workers in Tijuana, Mexico. After the film, Maria Amado, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, and Maria Rosales, assistant professor of political science, held a panel to talk about globalization and female labor.

The 52-minute documentary looks at many women factory workers but mainly focuses on the life of Carmen. Carmen works for one of Tijuana’s maquiladoras factories.

“The documentary was very thought provoking,” said the event coordinator Kimberly Yarbray, leadership for social change coordinator. “Because the movie was slow and had many visuals, I was able to really process the women’s stories. I think we learn best when we hear people’s stories. Hearing these women’s stories just opened my mind and heart to understand what they are facing everyday.”

Maquiladoras are foreign-owned factories that have come to Mexico for its cheap labor and then export the goods to other countries. Mexico has had a large decline in wages since the beginning of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). About 1.3 million people turn to Tijuana’s maquiladoras to find jobs.

The factories produce televisions, electrical cables, toys, clothes, batteries, and IV tubes. The factory workers make $6 a day and are exposed to toxic chemicals.

Junior Katrina Siladi traveled with the Guilford group Witness for Peace to Oaxaca, Mexico, to learn about free trade.

“The people that we met had an understanding that their lives are being adversely affected by free change,” Siladi said. “Many people in the United States don’t think about their effects of their purchases.”

“Maquilapolis” talks about the neighborhoods Carmen and the other factory workers live in, which have no sewage lines or electricity. Carmen built a home for herself and her three children out of recycled garage doors. The home has no floors.

“By showing the conditions that the women are living in, the documentary illustrates the fact that the pollution created by the activities of capitalists and consumers alike is not just an abstract problem that may hit us in the future,” Amado said. “It is something that is currently affecting the life chances of many people just across the border from the U.S.”

The documentary shows the workers facing labor violations, environmental devastation, and urban chaos. Carmen decides to take a stand by taking a major television manufacturer to court for violating her labor rights. Carmen’s colleague Lourdes pushes the government to clean up the toxic waste dump that was left behind by an old factory.

“I thought the documentary was accurate and moving,” Rosales said. “I like how it focused on the women and what they are doing to improve their lives and the live of others.”

In one scene in the documentary, a father talked about his experience of almost losing his daughter. The little girl fell into a puddle of water that had electric wires lying in it. The father had to push his daughter’s stomach and give her mouth to mouth until she be came conscious and spit out red and blue blood.

The panel following the movie talked about how the economy is currently at a low and why women are working in factories. A couple questions that came up were, “Why do sweatshops employ so many women?” and “Why are there so many women available to work?”

The women are looking for the means of life and survival. They face jobless times, so they are forced to find jobs in labor.

“The commentary from Rosales and Amado enlarged the stories that the women in the movie told,” Yarbray said. “Adding understanding from a variety of disciplines can only move individuals in a direction of better understanding. With better understanding, the possibility of better action exists.”

Rosales mentioned that laws can look good on paper but sometimes there is no enforcement. If the workers want to pursue the violations against them, the case will drag on for a long period of time.

After the panel, the viewers took discussed their thoughts and experiences of witnessing the poverty in Mexico. Many viewers thought the movie was scary but they noticed that the documentary had a positive side because of the women’s power and hopes. The audience members suggested that people should buy fair trade and communicate to one another.

“Some of the audience seemed surprised, shocked, and angry, but in the end they seemed to want to get involved,” Rosales said.

Yarbray had a couple solutions to help the factory workers and the environment.

“When people shop, they should pause and ask if they need the stuff they are about to buy,” Yarbray said. “People can also clean out their closets and share the stuff they no longer need. Finally, buying local can give people more control over how their products are created; it can also eliminate a lot of environmental damage caused by transporting stuff all over the world.