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187: The Rise of the Latino Vote

[2020] Notes on the making of our documentary “187: The Rise of the Latino Vote” that we made in co-production with KCET; including some of the challenges we faced, the purpose we sought in telling this story, and what left a mark on us.

"187: The Rise of the Latino Vote" is the documentary feature film that we made in co-production with the television station/digital platform KCET, about Proposition 187, a California electoral measure approved in 1994 that sought to deny public services to undocumented immigrants. While the initiative was designed to keep the “immigrant threat” at bay, it mobilized non-immigrants and immigrants in Latino communities, as well as their allies across the state. The political awakening of this powerful group would drastically change the electoral politics of the state, transforming California into a democratic and progressive state.

Proposition 187 created lasting new political dividing lines in California and across the country, and also shaped the political careers of a new generation of leaders.

The documentary arose from the initiative of Somos California (“We Are California”), a group of Latino leaders in Southern California originally formed to coordinate a program of activities commemorating the 25th anniversary of the passage of Proposition 187. The film was possible with the support of the California Community Foundation, La Plaza de Cultura y Artes East Side Arts Initiative, Weingart Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.

As Dignicraft, we took over the direction and production of the documentary, and we worked with a team of people divided between Los Angeles, Tijuana and Mexico City. Telling the story of Proposition 187 meant that the film had to incorporate a large collection of archival materials, such as photographs and elements from newspaper pages, as well as television clips; and a large percentage of the work consisted of searching through archives from news programs, labor unions, university libraries, or private collections. These materials were important in the segments of the story where data or still images had to be displayed, through the use of graphic animation sequences.

Filming took place during December 2019 at the KCET studios, where we did more than 20 interviews with leading figures from California politics, art and academia, including the first Latina in history to be chosen for the California State Legislature, Gloria Molina; former Secretary of State and now United States Senator Alex Padilla; the Senator of the state of California, María Elena Durazo; former California State Senator and current Los Angeles City Councilor Gil Cedillo; former president pro tempore of the California State Senate and current Los Angeles City Councilor, Kevin de León; Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund (MALDEF); and former California State Senate Majority Leader and California State Assembly Member Richard Polanco; among many more people. However, when the events narrated in the documentary took place, some of these people we interviewed were young activists or recently graduated professionals.

Gil Cedillo, California State Senator (2002-2010) and current member of the Los Angeles City Council, minutes before his interview for the documentary. Photo by Sami Helou, courtesy of KCET.

Documentary still taken from an animation sequence with the official sign of the campaign against Proposition 187.

The history of Proposition 187 has been told over the years through multiple research studies, books, newspaper reports, and other media. But this does not mean that it includes the voice of the people who were most affected by this measure. Our purpose with the documentary was to address the issue from the perspective of the Latino community, seeking to understand the various ways in which it was transformed in order to respond to anti-immigrant events. This was a story of 187 that had not been formally told.

The post-production of the documentary took place in 2020 and was marked by the covid-19 pandemic. The health contingency measures affected the pace of work but we managed to move on, each person from home and communicating over the internet.

Another detail during the making of the feature film that left its mark on us was that we were reviewing video files with records of historical events such as the Old Topanga fire, in Malibu, California, which lasted 10 days, burning more than 300 houses and 18 thousand hectares; or materials on the 1992 Los Angeles uprising that followed the verdict that acquitted the four police officers who beat Rodney King, where fires, assaults and looting occurred, leaving more than 60 people dead and thousands injured. Suddenly, we discovered that there was not much difference between those images of the nineties, in contrast to the images of what happened in California in 2020, that is, the largest fire season in the state, at least until that date; and the protests stemming from George Floyd's murder. Visually at least, it seemed like nothing had changed.

Omar Foglio (left) and José Luis Figueroa (right) from Dignicraft during an interview for the documentary. Photo by Sami Helou, courtesy of KCET.

On November 8, 1994, Proposition 187 was approved by a majority vote in California, and a long struggle began, from a multitude of fronts, that galvanized and unified the Latino community, creating alliances with the African American and Asian American communities. to eliminate all traces in the law codes of this anti-immigrant initiative. The best thing about the whole experience was listening to the story directly from the voices of its protagonists and feeling the emotional charge with which they remembered their experiences.

Documentary still from archival material of the debate between Ronald Reagan and George Bush on April 23, 1980, where they addressed the issue of immigration. The multiple screens allowed us a more agile display of information.

We were very proud of the courage and creativity of the people who organized and demonstrated against this law. The opportunity to tell their stories was a great responsibility for us and we consider it to be a very important chapter for both the history of Mexico and that of Central American countries such as Guatemala and El Salvador, which should be made more widely known.

Raquel Cetz, Civic Engagement Coordinator of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), in the company of her mother, after concluding the interview session. Photo by Sami Helou, courtesy of KCET.

Documentary still taken from an animation sequence. News headlines and texts were valuable in telling the story.

Part of the production team during the interviews, including Eric Waldron, Matthew Crotty, Louie Alfaro, José Luis Figueroa, Alexis Stringfellow, Arlissa Norman, Amy De La Rosa and Omar Foglio. Photo by Ricardo Palavecino, courtesy of KCET.

"187: The Rise of the Latino Vote" is available to view on the Kcet website, along with related articles and videos of the interviews we did with all the characters. Click here:

Documentary still with an emblematic archival image of the protests against Proposition 187.


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