Preview: The Hand That Feeds; Cinema Politica Opens Fall Program With Doc on Immigrant Workers

In January 2012, a group of low-wage immigrant workers decided to stand up against years of abuse at the hands of their managers and start a campaign to reclaim their rights and dignity as workers.

What began as a small strike, became about much more than simple repaid wages and vacation time. This journey was the heart of The Hand that Feeds, a 2014 documentary by Robin Blotnik and Rachel Lears, which has its Quebec premiere at the opening of the fall Cinema Politica Concordia screenings this Monday.

This documentary follows the lives of Mahoma López, Gonzalo Jiménez, Margarito López and many other workers at the fast-food restaurant chain, Hot and Crusty. They recount their work experience as undocumented immigrants, having had to work in precarious conditions, receive below minimum wage for their exorbitant weekly hours, and slowly lose their dignities in the process. Colleagues Mahoma and Gonzalo, fed up with their working conditions, decide to take action against Hot and Crusty.

Into their lives walks Virgilio Arán, founder of Laundry Workers Center United, a not-for-profit volunteer based organization that seeks to empower workers in an effort to bring about change. An undocumented immigrant himself, Virgilio understood the struggles that these employees were facing and immediately set up a team to help them.

Partnered with legal advisor Benjamin Dictor, a slew of activists, including community organizer Nastaran Mohit, and even Occupy Wall Street campaigners, Mahoma and Gonzalo led a small group of employees in a campaign for better immigrant worker rights.

This is a deeply empowering and impactful film that I absolutely adored. This film opened my eyes to the epidemic of low-wage immigrant workers in New York City who are being senselessly abused by their employers because it is assumed that nothing will be done about it.

The very first scene of the film documents an older worker revealing to the cameraman that his weekly salary for a 60 hours workweek came out to be only $290! I was disgusted by how readily these managers were willing to, essentially, steal from their employees simply because of their economic and social vulnerability. As the film progressed, I watched this little band of workers grow into a nation-wide campaign against injustice and was deeply moved by the support they got from all four corners of the map.

I couldn’t help but make a parallel between this film and Donald Trump’s racist rants about Mexico sending rapists and drug dealers over to America and how they were causing the downfall of American society. This film is offers a much different picture, that the people who are being supposedly “sent” from Mexico are nothing less than hard-working, loving and community oriented individuals, not the racist caricatures of a pundit, who came to America for better opportunities so that they could support their families.

One of the older members, Margarito López, commented that, “We are undocumented. But that doesn’t mean they have to profit from our hunger”. This comment struck me the most because it demonstrated the fighting spirit within him and all the other immigrant workers who have had enough of having their dignity sacrificed and their lives thrown aside.

The Hand That Feeds opens at Cinema Politica Concordia’s first screening of the year at 7 in the Concordia Hall Building’s H-110 Theatre.

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