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Racial Borderlands: Suburban Plantation Culture and 'Rancho California (por favor)'
Unformatted Document Text:  Racial Borderlands/10/9/03, p.4 assign guilt in the ways that the documentary genre requires. At first, the lived realities in these cardboard and discarded plywood homes struck me as being far worse than what I had seen and filmed in the UN refugee camps along the Rio Coco in Nicaragua and Honduras in 1983. The Miskito Indian refugees there at least had clean drinking water and rain-proof shelter. By contrast, one migrant in Escondido described living in the dirt, in subterranean “gopher holes,” some of which still existed in Carlsbad, a suburb covered by half-million dollar homes. 4 The first Oaxacan families I met in Carlsbad, consistently lacked clean drinking water, but had to gear up to fight off seasonal winter rains and mud as well. A mother with a newborn and a 3-year old child explained how to use discarded carpet scraps and motor oil to make floors for the children over the mud. 5 Yet it was in the same campesina’s descriptions of employment conditions and local borders that I began to see a much broader system at work here: “My husband works in construction. He works close by. Right over the hill. In the first houses. They took his car, and they didn’t pay him. And later, they gave him directions. ‘If you want your money, then you’ll have to come up to Los Angeles (90 miles away) to pick it up.’” This, of course, was impossible for someone without a car. Everybody (local neighbors in gated, designer home communities included) seemed to know that these migrant families lived in the ditches, and employers and contractors (like the one just described) proved adept at employing them in ways that kept them at arms length, thus precluding the need to actually pay them. For this and other reasons (I am not a Latino, Oaxacan, or Mixteco), I decided that any projects I embarked upon could not be about immigration, and could not be about Chicanos, Latinos, or the some universalizing Mexican-American “experience,” either. Rancho California (por favor) would have to be about a different set of relationships; about how many, very different people—including myself—act-out the racial borders of what increasingly looked like a new suburban, plantation culture. In the face of this situation, I considered how recent ideas in media theory, along with my own earliest interests in alternative media (borrowed as a student from Saul Worth, Jean Rouch, and others), might allow me to engage meaningfully in this broadly sanctioned predicament. My film (at least initially) would attempt to explore a set of possibilities for alternative

Authors: Caldwell, John.
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Racial Borderlands/10/9/03, p.4
assign guilt in the ways that the documentary genre requires. At first, the lived realities in these
cardboard and discarded plywood homes struck me as being far worse than what I had seen and
filmed in the UN refugee camps along the Rio Coco in Nicaragua and Honduras in 1983. The
Miskito Indian refugees there at least had clean drinking water and rain-proof shelter. By contrast,
one migrant in Escondido described living in the dirt, in subterranean “gopher holes,” some of which
still existed in Carlsbad, a suburb covered by half-million dollar homes.
4
The first Oaxacan families I
met in Carlsbad, consistently lacked clean drinking water, but had to gear up to fight off seasonal
winter rains and mud as well. A mother with a newborn and a 3-year old child explained how to use
discarded carpet scraps and motor oil to make floors for the children over the mud.
5
Yet it was in
the same campesina’s descriptions of employment conditions and local borders that I began to see
a much broader system at work here: “My husband works in construction. He works close by. Right
over the hill. In the first houses. They took his car, and they didn’t pay him. And later, they gave
him directions. ‘If you want your money, then you’ll have to come up to Los Angeles (90 miles
away) to pick it up.’” This, of course, was impossible for someone without a car.
Everybody (local neighbors in gated, designer home communities included) seemed to know
that these migrant families lived in the ditches, and employers and contractors (like the one just
described) proved adept at employing them in ways that kept them at arms length, thus precluding
the need to actually pay them. For this and other reasons (I am not a Latino, Oaxacan, or Mixteco),
I decided that any projects I embarked upon could not be about immigration, and could not be about
Chicanos, Latinos, or the some universalizing Mexican-American “experience,” either. Rancho
California (por favor) would have to be about a different set of relationships; about how many, very
different people—including myself—act-out the racial borders of what increasingly looked like a new
suburban, plantation culture. In the face of this situation, I considered how recent ideas in media
theory, along with my own earliest interests in alternative media (borrowed as a student from Saul
Worth, Jean Rouch, and others), might allow me to engage meaningfully in this broadly sanctioned
predicament. My film (at least initially) would attempt to explore a set of possibilities for alternative


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