The documentary “Harvest of Empire: The Untold Story of Latinos in America” forces people to confront what they never knew about the relationship between the United States and Latin America. Viewers are guaranteed to learn something profound about hope, oppression and achievement from the stories that make up this history, no matter their background.

On Wednesday, Oct. 4, the Bijou Arts Cinema on E. 13th Avenue in Eugene held a free screening of the documentary in partnership with the Wayne Morse Center for Law & Policy and the Department of Romance Languages at the University of Oregon. The documentary, released in 2012, is based on the book of the same title by Juan González. The movie is directed by Peter Getzels and Eduardo López.

Before the film started, under the high, wooden ceiling of Auditorium 1, which used to be the main chapel area when the building was a church, the near-capacity crowd of students, retirees and curious community members chewed popcorn, sipped sodas and chatted using hushed voices. Then the room fell silent, and the movie took viewers through the long, brutal history of U.S. military intervention throughout Central America and the alarmingly immoral tactics it frequently used.

People periodically gasped as the film showed clips of Fox News commentators praising Arizona’s controversial 2010 immigration law, encouraging racial profiling and using insensitive epithets.

However, the film contrasted the news clips with interviews from Nobel-laureates, academics and former U.S. government officials about this troubling history. They told powerful stories about the resilience, successes and abuses of Latino immigrants living in the U.S. today. Each of the stories shows the integral role immigrants play in defining what it truly means to be “American.”

After the 90-minute documentary concluded, graduate students from the UO Department of Romance Languages led a discussion about the film. The recurring theme among people who spoke was that the film is even more important now than when it came out five years ago. Immigration is now a top national political issue, and recent rhetoric and policy changes from the Trump administration have left many people feeling like outsiders in the country they wish to call home.

In a post-screening interview, community activist Anthony Samperio said it makes sense to him that the school system in the U.S. doesn’t teach this history.

“They don’t want to show things that make our country look bad, especially because there are almost no instances of redemption when it comes to the treatment of Latino people in America,” Samperio said.

He was pursuing a graduate degree in Chicano studies when he decided to drop out and become a community activist.

“I didn’t feel like I was really getting anything done,” Samperio said.

From 2017 to 2019, the UO Wayne Morse Center for Law & Policy’s theme of inquiry is “Borders, Migration and Belonging.” This year from mid-October to mid-November, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and undocumented U.S. resident Jose Antonio Vargas will be in residence at the Wayne Morse Center. Vargas will be giving a lecture at Straub Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. A full events schedule is available on the Wayne Morse Center website.

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