Across Texas an unstoppable construction boom drives urban sprawl and luxury high-rises. Its dirty secret: abuse of immigrant labor. BUILDING THE AMERICAN DREAM captures a turning point as a movement forms to fight widespread construction industry injustices. Grieving their son, a Mexican family campaigns for a life-and-death safety ordinance. A Salvadorian electrician couple owed thousands in back pay fights for their children’s future. A bereaved son battles to protect others from his family’s preventable tragedy. A story of courage, resilience and community, the film reveals shocking truths about the hardworking immigrants who build the American Dream, of which they are excluded.
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Building the American Dream
Building the American Dream
My journey with this film began in my hometown of Austin, Texas, in 2009, when I learned from a TV news segment that three immigrant workers had fallen to their deaths when their scaffold collapsed while building a luxury student condominium tower near the University of Texas while I was a student there. The news led me to investigate further, and I soon discovered startling facts about the Texas construction industry:
> Texas is the deadliest state for construction.
> Texas is the only state that doesnt require workers compensation for contractors.
> Half of the million person workforce in Texas is undocumented.
I was shocked and disappointed to learn of the vast exploitation of those immigrants building my rapidly expanding home state. While I understood Texas was a right to work state, this sounded not only like the Wild West, but seemed to be a modern form of slavery upon which the much touted Texas Miracle relied.
I knew the only way to inform people about this complex issue would be to make a film that captures the lives, struggles and dangers faced every day by workers and their families. By focusing on their points of view, I wanted audiences to connect with the real people who build the office in which they work, or the schools their children attend.
As a Mexican-American woman born and raised in Texas, I feel I am the best person to tell a story of Latinx in the Lone Star state. My Latina heritage gives me understanding and respect toward the Latino community that an outsider might lack, and thus makes for a story that goes deeper than mainstream media. Over the past five years, I have gained the trust of workers who have allowed me to document their lives, a risk that could potentially rip their family apart because of current immigration policies. At a time of openly hateful, divisive rhetoric that demonizes and criminalizes immigrants, including increased Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) raids, and a heartbreakingly cruel family separation policy, I believe my film will rehumanize immigrants as ordinary people who merely seek to contribute to society, the American economy, and to better their lives. The personal stories in BUILDING THE AMERICAN DREAM are much like those we read about in many previous eras of American history, in a country built first by slaves, and then by an influx of low wage worker immigrants. Bringing my creative vision to a social issue story expressed through moving, verité filming, artfully blended with historical and social context, I feel this film appropriately captures the human costs of a failing American labor and immigration system.