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Stable Life
An immigrant family struggles to succeed in the hardscrabble world of horse racing.
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Stable Life

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Running Time
52 minutes

Stable Life

Dionicia M. is an undocumented immigrant who lives at the stables of a northern California racetrack and spends long days tending thoroughbred racehorses. Despite her humble surroundings, Dionicia is optimistic about her prospects: she likes her job and her oldest son José Luis is turning heads as a hot-shot apprentice jockey in Los Angeles.At the racetrack, gamblers make long-shot bets in the hopes of winning big. This high-risk, high-intensity environment mirrors the situation faced by many Undocumented immigrants in America: with no possibility of getting legal work visas, these immigrants gamble on improving their lives by working and living clandestinely.Indeed, Dionicia’s gamble soon appears lost. The racetrack where she works and lives closes down, and her José Luis is picked up at an immigration checkpoint and deported. Undeterred, Dionicia will double down her on her bet in a surprising way. Will she achieve the stable life of her dreams, or will her luck run out?

Filmmaker Notes:

How do we decide which people deserve to immigrate to the United States? I began my professional life as a lawyer working on behalf of indigent refugees and asylum seekers. In my practice I encountered migrants with horrific stories of persecution and hardship, many of whom ultimately were able to settle legally in this country. But I also met many migrants whose hardships didn’t qualify them as refugees and who didn’t have another way to live in the US legally.  These ‘economic migrants’ could easily find jobs but their lack of immigration papers condemned them to live in the margins of American life.  Their urgent need to support themselves and their families, and our urgent need for their labor, are unrecognized by our immigration system. There are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, more than half of whom are Mexican. These immigrants are hidden in plain sight, working in industries like agriculture, construction and services.  I first learned of the hidden world of the racetrack through a New York Times article about workers on Southern California tracks. When I visited racetracks in Northern California, I found the unique community on the “backside” fascinating. Largely immigrant and isolated from the outside world, racetrack workers created a community they could call their own, far from the scary and puzzling America outside the racetrack. When Dionicia and I met at the racetrack we had an instant rapport. Besides being a devoted mother, Dionicia is a thoughtful woman who felt that she had something to say about the hardships undocumented immigrants experience in America. Though she knew there was a risk involved in speaking out publicly in a documentary, she wanted to be heard. In order to minimize potential risk, our team consulted with immigration advocates and made some editing decisions ultimately to obscure the family’s identity and whereabouts. (Spoiler alert: in the end, such caution proved unnecessary.) When our team learned that Dionicia’s oldest son José Luis was making a stellar debut into the California racing scene as an apprentice jockey, their story took a magical turn.  Hard work, determination, and talent  seemed to be more important than a lack of immigration papers. As it turned out, we began filming Dionicia and José Luis in a particularly hopeful moment of their lives. Dionicia and her husband had good jobs, their younger sons were all in school and José Luis’ jockey career was taking off. Sadly, it was not to last, and their lack of immigration papers soon became the defining force in their lives.   I intended Stable Life to be a hopeful documentary,  a tribute to the strength and resilience of the racterack workers and their undocumented counterparts throughout the US economy. Instead, Stable Life is a testament to America’s broken immigration system and the needless suffering it creates. But I hope that it may also draw attention to the crucial role our hidden immigrants play in the US economy. If we can recognize these immigrants as the valued workers and beloved members of our communites that they are, perhaps we can imagine a solution that brings people out from the shadows.

Film details
Year(s) screened
  • 2013
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