Filmmaker Lourdes Lee Vasquez ventured downtown with her camera one day, hoping to capture some memorable footage of an immigration protest that happened to be taking place. When she arrived, Vasquez discovered (just as myself and several of my fellow film students did) that there is no fence to sit on, from whence a documentary filmmaker can objectively observe both sides of the immigration issue, capturing images equally representative of each other and freely accessing each side of the issue with impunity. From day one, a line is drawn by both sides, and a demand is made: “Which side are you on?”
After seven years of covering every aspect and angle of the immigration issue, Director Vasquez has completed her documentary film titled “The Immigration Paradox,” which premiered at the Orpheum Theatre in September. The film is about the immigration issue, and its impact not just on Arizona, but the global effects of immigration as well. “The Immigration Paradox” explores every viewpoint, crunches every number, turns every page and rattles every cage imaginable to present an exhaustive and often overwhelming history of immigration in America, and everything bad in the world. ‘Paradox’ begins with a simple, human approach to the immigration issue, as Vasquez wonders out loud why there are people so angrily opposed to immigration. “They must be hurting” Vasquez concludes, and sets off to find out why. Along the way, she camps out for several days with the ‘Minutemen’ border militia and discovers that they’re pretty nice folks, rescuing dying immigrants the way they do. And those religious people who leave water out in the desert for the immigrants, why, they’re fabulous also. So if the Minutemen and members of the Universalist Unitarian Church can all sit around the campfire together in the Arizona desert with thirsty immigrants, why can’t we all get along? To answer that question, ‘Paradox’ goes off on an odyssey of turgid tangents, mind numbing statistics, incongruous interviews and Discovery Channel doldrums. ‘Paradox’ points out that, before you can understand why people think about immigration, you have to know the history of what a ‘think tank’ is, and while you’re doing that, you also need to know the history of immigration in America, but in order to tell that story properly, you have to know the history of America. Of course, no history of America can be told without the complete history of the Native Americans, and we could never comprehend Native American history without a complete rundown of the history of mankind and the origins of the earth and the creation of the universe.
Between the numbingly snoozy slide shows, the hyper-animated info-graphics spit out numbers faster than a lotto ‘baller in a wind tunnel, and take up a good portion of the film. Several different interviews are inserted between the illustrations, with each interview subject offering their take on the immigration issue. ASU Justice and Social Inquiry Professor Dr. Alan Gómez is probably the most interesting and engaging, yet seems to get very little screen time. Center for Immigration Studies director Mark Kirkonian, (who likes making analogies between immigrants and jelly doughnuts, but not in this film), drones on with all the captivating intensity of Steven Wright explaining cold-water fusion. Mexican repatriate Allejandro Hermosillo provides the raspberries for the evening, musing that US corporations are moving to China because Chinese people are happy “drinking water and eating rice all day,” a gaffe not experienced since Gen. William Westmoreland opined “The Oriental doesn’t put the same high price on life as does a westerner” in the Oscar winning documentary “Hearts and Minds” (1974). The reductio ad absurdum continues for over two hours, slowly degenerating into a foil-hat, conspiracy theory laden pessimistic zeitgeist, complete with references to subliminal corporate brain wave attacks crackling through the air. The director occasionally interrupts the narration to apologize for being a representative of the media and perpetuating negative images of immigrants, promising to be a better person from now on. Later, the director jumps in again to plead forgiveness for purchasing consumer goods that support the heartless corporations that control all of us. Relax, we’ve all been there; even I ate Monsanto corn one time, but it was dark and I was drunk at the state fair.
‘Paradox’ initially took on an emotional, heart-felt human story, and was fully prepared to present the current disputation of immigration in America, and more specifically, the plight of the immigrants that risk everything to come here by way of the Arizona desert, just for a chance to nibble at the carrot dangling from the end of the corporate stick. But the thumping pulse we all have our finger on at the beginning of the film becomes weak very rapidly and the heart grows hard and cold, as several unfinished film projects are buttressed and bookended into a long, tedious Gordian dissertation. The forgotten flesh that rots in the Arizona desert has been slide-ruled, T-squared and ratiocinated into an endless corporate training video, complete with a coffee break in the middle. Several life-changing lessons were learned over the course of seven years, yet ‘Paradox’ is unable to effectively share them with us. The “bigger picture” the film promises to reveal is buried in the stats, and the important message winds up as little more than a sidebar. “The Immigration Paradox” tried quite gallantly to guide me through the history, but soon gave up, opting instead to just clobber me with the history book.