The Miami Herald
Mon, Feb. 09, 2004

Documentary holds lessons for S. Florida

A film that captures ethnic tensions in Farmingville on Long Island offers insights on immigration in Florida and elsewhere, its directors say.


  There is one particularly telling line in the acclaimed documentary Farmingville, which chronicles a small Long Island hamlet torn apart by ethnic tensions amid a wave of Mexican immigrants.

  ''It's a tension that is national, but it is really fought out on a local level,'' one elected official explains.

  Farmingville, N.Y., drew national headlines in September 2000 when two Mexican day laborers were nearly beaten to death because of their ethnicity. The incident drew attention to the increasing strain between long-time residents and about 1,500 Mexican immigrants.

  The hamlet is an extreme example of tensions over immigration. But, its directors say, the lessons should not be lost on Florida, with its thousands of Hispanic

  Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini, who spent nearly a year making the documentary, last week screened their work at the Miami International Film Festival.
  Farmingville earned a special jury award at last month's Sundance Film Festival and will be shown later this year on PBS's P.O.V.

  Sandoval and Tambini answered questions from audience members at the Miami screenings. They also showed the film at a community center in Homestead, an
  agricultural hub known for its Mexican-American population.

  ''I hope Farmingville isn't like the canary in the mine, that this isn't the first indicator of what will be happening as Latinos become more and more dominant across the
  country,'' Sandoval said in an interview last week.

  Sandoval, who is Mexican-American and Puerto Rican, and Tambini made the film by moving to the hamlet and immersing themselves in the controversy.


  Residents there complained that the laborers, almost all men, were living dozens to a house and were harassing women while congregating on street corners awaiting
  jobs. Immigrant advocates argued that the men were simply trying to make a living, to provide for their families back home.

  ''We take a very balanced view of the situation. Our hope is that people will be able to stand in the shoes of the different people,'' Tambini said. ``We didn't want to make an advocacy piece on anyone's behalf.''

  If there is anything that Florida can draw from Farmingville, they say, it is that dialogue is crucial when ethnic communities suddenly find themselves side by side.

  The documentary will be used as part of a national ''engagement'' campaign aimed at sparking dialogue in areas with communities of day laborers and undocumented

  Farmworker abuse has garnered headlines in Florida in recent months, including a Herald series published in August that chronicled the poverty, shoddy pay, housing and criminal abuse of the state's farmworkers, many of them Hispanic migrants.

  Echoes of Farmingville can be found in Immokalee, a heavily Hispanic farming town that recently saw a small rally of Confederate flag-waving men with signs telling
  immigrants to ''go home.'' Similar signs were frequent in Farmingville.

  In Moore Haven, three Hispanic workers have sued a dairy run by the family company of Sen. Bob Graham because they say they have not been paid for all the hours
  they have worked. One episode in Farmingville shows day laborers unsuccessfully asking a contractor to give them back pay.

  And in North Miami, some non-Hispanic white softball players were critical of the city changing a diamond to a soccer field to cater to immigrant residents. Some
  Farmingville residents were upset that Mexicans there started a soccer league.


  But Coalition of Immokalee Workers member Greg Asbed says clashes like the ones in Farmingville are rare.

  Instead, in Southwest Florida, he said, there's little dialogue because migrant workers don't interact geographically with the rest of the population.

  Asbed supports making more documentaries like Farmingville to make the issue more visible.

  ''We have a culture of gated communities, where people who work and build the communities are all people who could never live there,'' Asbed said. ``We need to put
  these issues out in front of us, so that right analysis will have a chance to take root.''