What they didn’t teach us about Latin America

I tuned into a Democracy Now! broadcast recently and caught most of the discussion about a documentary based on the book Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez, Democracy Now! co-host. When I heard the film was going to be screened in Silver Spring, and Gonzalez and the co-directors were doing a Q&A afterwards, I planned to go.

I’d just finished reading “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz.  It was a great read that left me much better informed about the Dominican Republic and appalled at the realization of how little I knew of that country’s history or the Dominican immigrant experience. Thank you, Junot Diaz! And thank you Juan Gonzalez for your tremendous contribution to the dialogue about immigration and Latinos in America.

“We are all Americans of the New World, and our most dangerous enemies 
are not each other, but the great wall of ignorance between us.”     ~Juan González, Harvest of Empire

I Liked the Harvest of Empire Facebook page, posted the link on my wall, posted it on a group to see if anyone wanted to meet-up and told anyone who might be interested about it. Made some plans with a friend, bought my tix online. My Friday night movie plans were on track.

Until I got home and found a message from my friend. She couldn’t make it.  I was disappointed, but I persevered.  It was the Ides of March, after all. Unexpected things can happen. After my eight-hour work day and a two-hour power nap, I headed over to the theater, planning to resell my spare ticket.

Downtown Silver Spring was swirling with people, many heading to The Majestic. It was a zoo at the theater, but snagging my tickets from the internet was a cinch. The show was sold out! Thx to FB and Twitter no doubt. It didn’t take me long to realize that in a lobby full of twos and threes who had just been hit with the “sold-out” news that my one ticket wasn’t going to sell.  So I approached a young couple.

Here to see Harvest of Empire, I inquired? “It’s sold out,” they moaned. I offered them my tickets at cost. My friend had car trouble and no one wants just one ticket, I explained.  So we headed out of the lobby to look for a money machine.  While we waited on the corner for her date to find some cash, we had a few minutes to chat.

Yes, she told me she’d heard about the film on Facebook. I told her Democracy Now! was my source and that reading Diaz’ book about how the Dominican Republic had suffered  for decades under a despotic regime had motivated me to learn more.  “You mean Chavez?” she asked.  No, Trujillo. Chavez was  Venezuelan—and he was a good guy in the opinion of many of his people. We agreed we had much to learn about the history of our southern neighbors and wondered why we weren’t taught Latin American history in school.

I glanced to my left and saw Juan Gonzalez walking resolutely, alone and unrecognized, toward the theater.  I said to the young woman, that’s the writer. Who? Juan Gonzalez.  He wrote the book. Was that him? Yes. He just walked into the lobby. Oh I didn’t know.

I felt an urge to thank him.  She asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to see it?” No, I was certain. I’ll see it.  Just not tonight.  They said I’d saved their Friday night. I smiled and told them to spread the word then headed home.

This film is bound to enlighten the conversation about immigration and make an impact on this controversial debate. (Yes, I’m still looking forward to seeing it.)  Watch the trailer, spread the word and see it when you can!

~Nan Logsdon Mandelkorn

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