Raíces de sangre (Roots of Blood) (1979)

 

 

 

 

Director:     Jesús Salvador Treviño.

Starring:     Richard Yniguez (Carlos Rivera),  León Singer (Rogelio),  Pepe Serna (Juan),  Adriana Rojo (Rosamaria Mejia),  Roxanna Bonilla-Giannini (Lupe Carrillo),  Enrique Muñoz (Adolfo),  Leon Singer (Rogelio Figueroa),  Isaac Ruiz (Kiki Gomez),  Guillermo Gil (Francisco Alvarado),  Yolanda Marquez (Sylvia Moreno),  Joseph LeRoy (Rodger Flint),  Roger Cudney (Tom Robertson).

No subtitles at all.  Spoken in a mixture of Spanish and English, therefore spanglish.  (I did my best translating the Spanish parts of the film.)

the fight for unionization of the fabric factories around the US/Mexican border

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.  

A big truck pulls off the road just past a large tree.  The driver gets out and unlocks the lock, but leaves the lock still hanging there.  He then gets in the car that stops for him and away they go.  Two police officers pull in to investigate the truck.  When they see there is no driver around, they open up the rear doors.  The floor is covered with dead bodies of men, women and children from Mexico.  The officer who first opens the door gasps:  "Oh,. my God!"  They call in to headquarters. 

There are a lot of women in a sweat shop where they are sewing shirts for the Morris Shirt Company, Inc..  They are closely watched by the factory foreman.  One of the women, Rosa, does not feel well .  Her stomach hurts.  The fellow who collects the finished shirts, Ramon, stops and asks Rosa if she asked her husband, Adolfo, about signing the union petition.  Rosa tells him her husband doesn't want her to sign it and she needs all the work she can get.  Rosa is distracted by this talk and gets one of her fingers pierced through with the sewing needle of the sewing machine.  She yells in pain an a co-worker takes her where she can get her finger fixed up. 

Carlos Rivera is driving along the road and makes a stop by a large cotton field.  The machines there are busy collecting the cotton to make the cotton shirts for the Morris Shirt Company.  On the radio is the news about the people who died in the back of a truck that was deliberately abandoned.  Carlos gets out and watches the harvesting machines at work.  He gets back in the car and drives downtown to the offices of Barrio Unido Community Center, 143 Zavala Street.  He goes into the building and looks around.  Inside two men, one young (Juan), the other older (Rogelio), are working on a mimeograph machine so they can finish printing out the fliers they are working on.  Carlos whistles and Juan whistles back.  Juan turns and sees Carlos.  He walks up to him, too close for comfort, and tells him to get out.  Carlos takes off his sunglasses and tells the fellow:  "Make me!"  Then the two start laughing and hug each other. 

Rogelio is Carlos's godfather.  Godfather introduces Carlos to the staff as their new lawyer.  There is a woman worker there that looks somewhat familiar to Carlos.  Her name is Lupe Carrillo. Lupe will give an orientation for Carlos.  He mentions to her that she looks familiar and she says that when she was a young girl in school, Carlos was the "big shot" of the high school.  Carlos smiles.  Lupe gets a call from a Johnny.  She tells him that she already told him not to call her.  Goodbye. 

Lupe takes Carlos over to the mimeograph machine to show him how to use it.  The flyer is about the union and appeals to Mexican and Chicano workers.  After Lupe leaves, Carlos starts printing out the rest of the 500 copies they need. 

Juan also works for the Morris Shirt Company.  Work ends for the day and Adolfo is there to walk home with his wife Rosa.  It is dark by the time the workers get out.  Adolfo goes home to their three small children.  At the company entrance/exit gate, the workers from Barrio Unido start passing out the flyers to the workers.  Carlos and Lupe are there helping. 

Back at the office, godfather asks Carlos to look over a city ordinance pertaining to public gatherings in the town.  It appears Barrio Unido needs to get a permit to hold a gathering in the park.  Rosa says its their park, in their barrio and they have the right to use it.  She asks:  "Who the hell do they think they are anyway?"  Carlos looks at the ordinance and says that a big bone of contention is that they are going to say the park is being used for political purposes by a political group.  So why not put on a cultural presentation?  They agree to put on a theatrical presentation by the "El Teatro Campesino", the Farm Workers Theater. 

Two white men, Mr. Green and Mr. Robertson, come to the Morris Shirt Company to talk to the foreman, Alvarado.  With Alvarado is a man named Fuentes.  Green says:  "Fuentes, you're such a damn kiss ass."  A big issue before Green and Robertson is the workers' desire to establish a workers' union and not a company union.  The workers say Fuentes doesn't represent them. Robertson tells Green that there is only one way to fight this and that is to start firing the organizers.  After all, they have enough problems with the workers on the Mexican side of the border.  They don't want the workers on the American side to start causing big problems too.  Green gives Alvarado the "new contract" that is not going to make the workers happy.  

Fuentes and Alvarado present the new contract to the workers on the Mexican side.  Alvarado gives the specifics.  The price of materials has gone up and so the company has a new contract with three rules specific rules the workers will have to follow.:  there will be a quota of the number of shirts a worker must finished during a day: fifteen; wages paid per shirt are lessened; and any workers late to work more than three times a month will be replaced.  When the talk is finished, it's obvious that the women workers are not happy. 

Alvarado comes around looking at the number of finished shirts by each worker.   He sees that Rosa has little or no shirts finished.  He tells the women that this person may be one of the first to be replaced under the new rules.  The women start passing down one shirt a piece that they each finished to put it in Rosa's box.  The next time Alvarado comes around, the box is full.  He doesn't say a thing, but just walks away.  After he's gone, the women start laughing about what they did to save one of their co-workers. 

Carlos and Juan go over to Moreno's Garage.  The a buddy of Juan's shows off a car that has been rebuilt, where the car can bounce really high and in the back there is a huge music speaker.  The guys want to get together and have a beer, but Carlos says he has to go.  Juan thinks Carlos is being a bit rude and says he's ignoring his buddies.  Carlos still leaves.

Carlos drives Lupe to the elementary school.  While waiting for Lupe's daughter, the two talk together.  Carlos talks about the teacher who always called him "Carl" instead of Carlos.  And back then the teachers would say speaking Spanish in class is un-American.  Lupe says that the godfather of Carlos is a great man and Carlos agrees.  Carlos asks her about this guy "Johnny", but Lupe is saved by the arrival of her daughter Margarita.  Mom introduces her daughter to Carlos. 

At lunch Juan talks to some of the Hispanic workers.  Some of them say the wetbacks are taking their jobs.  Juan speaks up for the wetbacks saying they are their brothers and sisters. 

Rosa has a little talk with Carlos about his attitude toward the people who work at Barrio Unido and the work of the Barrio Unido itself.  He seems to think he is superior to those around him.  She wants him to respect everyone, regardless of their level of education or achievement. 

At home with Rosa and Adolfo.  Adolfo is feeling very irritable and scolds the kids for making too much noise.  Rosa asks him what's wrong?  He tells her to leave him alone.  A little later Adolfo brings up the idea of going to the other side (the USA) to make more money.  Rosa says things are better now and she worries about the children being left behind.  He tells her to believe him  -- there will be great opportunities for them on the other side.  They laugh a little and then kiss. 

Juan is fired from his job because of his union organizing activity.  The boss says he doesn't want any more flyers or other shit about the union at the workplace.  Juan goes to Barrio Unido to tell them what happened to him.  Carlos treats what happened very lightly, which brings a rebuke from Rosa.  She tells him that this is not a joke.  It's a serious matter.  Kiki drives up to the front door of Barrio Unido, jumps out of the car and tells the workers that a young fellow they know has overdosed.  They rush out to take a look at the fellow.  Kiki drives off to take him to the hospital. 

Carlos tells Juan that this kind of thing is a matter for the police, not Barrio Unido.  Juan points out that the police are on the side of the company.   He tells Carlos that these "vatos" are part of their raza (race, people) and their problems are everyone's problems.  Carlos says he himself is not trying to save the whole world.  Juan tells Carlos that he shouldn't forget who he is and where he came from.  They continue like this until Juan slugs Carlos in the face.  Godfather holds Carlos back from trying to hit back at Carlos.  Juan leaves. 

Juan goes over to the Mexican factory to talk to Roman, the guy who collects the shirts.  Together they have a meeting with the women workers to get them to sign up for the union.  The workers have a lot of fears.  If they get fired, who will take care of their children?  Nevertheless, after the first woman signs up, most of the other women do too. 

Carlos takes Lupe out to dinner.  He apologizes for what happened in the office in the afternoon and adds that he will soon be returning to San Francisco.  Lupe wants to know what's the hurry?  He says he has to start his new life there.  He also needs to take the bar exam.   Lupe asks if he is going back because of some girl in San Francisco?  He says no.  He is dreaming more of some day becoming a junior partner in a law firm.  Lupe is more interested in the people here who are hoping that a true union will bring them a better life. 

Mr. Green goes out golfing with a politician named Peter.   He complains to Peter about the Chicanos messing with his workers.  He also says if Peter could get some men down to the park for the theatrical presentation, Mr. Morris would certainly be indebted to him and might help him in the upcoming election by making a big contribution to his campaign.  Peter says if those Chicanos start anything tomorrow, he will be ready for them. 

Ramon gets fired by Alvarado and Fuentes for his union organizing work.   

Carlos drives Lupe out to an isolated place.  They talk awhile and then have sex (no nudity, except a silhouette shot). 

The play is put on for the factory workers of Morris Shirt Company.  The goons and thugs start gathering at the edge of the park.  The play deals with all the problems the Mexicans face when they go to the other side.  It's a very satirical play.  The workers are exploited on the Mexican side, being taken advantage of by the coyotes (who bring the Mexicans across the border for a big fee), and then on the American side by the greedy Americans that run the factories and other businesses.  Some goons arrive at the park.  Now the police arrive.  Soon enough there is another "police riot" where the police get out of hand and start beating anyone and anybody in their way. The goons that work for Morris also do a lot of damage to the audience.  Juan is beaten up on stage and kicked when he's down.  The goons set the booths and the stage on fire.

Barrio Unido holds a press conference on the police riot.   A white reporter asks isn't it true that Chicanos not agreeing with the aims of Barrio Unido were the ones who started all the trouble?  Rogelio says absolutely not.  He has Ramon, from the Mexican side, speak about what happened on the American side.  Ramon says the men who attacked them yesterday are men who work in the Morris factory in Mexico and Ramon thinks they were paid by the Morris Shirt Company.  Another reporter asks if they are going to file a formal complaint against the Morris Shirt Company?  Carlos steps in and says they won't formally accuse anyone until they have gathered together all the evidence. 

Now Margarita is brought up to speak at the press conference.  She was hit and wounded by a blow to the right side of her forehead.  She was attacked by the Morris Company gorillas.  Rogelio asks the question about the police:  "Instead of defending us, they themselves were attacking the people in the park.  We, the Chicano community, ask who is there to defend us, but ourselves?"

Tonight is the time for Adolfo and Rosa to leave their children behind and go to the other side.  They say goodbye to their children who are staying with a woman named Lette.  The couple start walking to the gathering point. 

Carlos goes to visit his friend Juan in the hospital.  Juan awakens for a little while.  Carlos explains to him that he was badly hurt in an attack on him by the Morris gorillas.  He also apologizes to Juan for only thinking of himself and of returning to San Francisco.  He goes on to say that he and the others are going to hold a protest march against those who head the companies like Morris Shirt Company to tell them that they cannot treat people as bad as they do.  He says:  "One way or the other, we're going to do it, ese."   They will get together with the Mexicans in a united front.  As Carlos talks, Juan dies.  Carlos cries for his friend. 

Adolfo and Rosa reach the embarkation place.  They give the money to the coyote and he puts them on a red, white and blue colored truck very much like the truck used in the death of the many Mexicans locked in the truck and left to die there.  In fact, it's probably the same truck used before.  Rosa and Adolfo see Alvarado receiving some of the money collected by the coyote and this disturbs them..  The truck leaves.

Carlos goes over to the Barrio Unido office.  They are planning with those on the Mexican side of the border to have a funeral march combined with a protest against the Morris Shirt Company.  They will be carrying candles.  Carlos gets mad about this.  He says Morris has killed one of them and all they are going to do is light candles in memory of Juan?  Rogelio criticizes Carlos for calling for a violent revolution that would end badly for all the Chicanos.  Nevertheless, Carlos is still angry and leaves very mad.

The truck load of Mexicans are again left in the same place as before.  The people yell to be let out of the truck, but no one is there to release them. 

The women workers unplug the electricity cords and cut the electrical plugs off them. Others cut the belts used to power the sewing machines. They then march out of the factories in Mexico and the USA.    Juan's coffin is carried by members of the community.  Carlos goes with Rosa.  The procession walks along the border fence.  They are joined by workers and community members on the Mexican side of the border behind the fence.  The police are out in force and Mr. Green is there.  The casket is brought right in front of the Morris Company executives. 

Carlos makes a little speech.  He says this is the body of their friend Juan who died like so many others in the past and in the present.  Here is the fight!  From the other side of the fence, Ramon shouts "Que viva la raza!'  Carlos shouts:  "Que viva la raza unida."  The other protestors shout back, joining in the spirit of the protest

 

Good movie about the factory workers on both sides of the Mexican/American border who earn little and work in bad conditions.  After an absence from his home town in Texas, where he went to school, Carlos returns to say hello to friends and neighbors before leaving to start his new life as a lawyer in San Francisco.  He volunteers to work for Barrio Unido to help his friend Juan and to be near the pretty Lupe, but he really only sympathizes a little with the cause of helping his Hispanic brothers and sisters.  This superior attitude gets Carlos into trouble with Juan, Lupe and other Hispanics.  Despite the fighting with Lupe, they come to love each other and stay together. The Mexican and the American workers are trying to get a workers', not a company, union and the employers are trying to prevent this.  It's a bitter conflict with serious violence used against the workers.   The film shows just how badly the workers are treated and how difficult it is for them to try to establish a union, especially since the police are on the side of the employers.  It also illustrates the desire of some Mexican workers to enter the United States illegally.  The Mexicans are taken advantage of by the coyotes bringing them into the USA and then by American employers.. 

Patrick Louis Cooney,  Ph. D. 

 

 

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