Maquilapolis - city of factories

Hair extensions

Year: 2006

Type: Documentary (68min, In Spanish with Spanish or English subtitles)

Directors: Vicky Funari and Sergio de la Torre

Music: Pauline Oliveros with the Nortec Collective and John Blue

Production Company: Independent Television Service (ITVS), a CineMamás film.

Availability: free on YouTube here and here, with US library or university card on Kanopy here, host a community screening in the US via the POV Community Network here, on-demand on Vimeo here, film transcript in English and Spanish on California Newsreel here.

Page reference: Buller, R., Bonner, M., Lyons, R., Little, G., Schulzklinger, T., Hart, J. and Kemppainen, E. (2020) Maquilapolis – city of factories. followthethings.com (https://followthethings.com/maquilapolis.shtml last accessed <insert date here>)




What is the human price of industrialization? What is the price of globalization (Source: Stewart 2007, np link)?

There's a good chance that at least one component in your TV comes from a maquiladora - a Mexican border town factory (Source: Carcamo 2013, np link).

In Mexico, maquiladoras is a word used to describe the sort of factories that have become commonplace as part of the new global economy (Source: Deming nda, np link).

[It is] a factory system that works by importing raw and unassembled electronic components to Mexico, assembling them using Mexican labor, and exporting the fully assembled goods often across the border to the USA (Source: Orihuela & Hageman 2011, p.167).

… a million … maquiladora workers produce televisions, electrical cables, toys, clothes, batteries[,] IV tubes … (Source: Anon nda, np link).

… filters, electrical components, oxygen masks, urinary bags, furniture, telephones, lenses, pantyhose, power cords, television parts, … oxygens sensors, [and] intravenous tubes (Source: Kray 2008, np link).

… they weave the very fabric of life for consumer nations (Source: Anon nda, np link).

[T]he predominantly female labor force assembles a host of products … for internationally recognized brands like Panasonic, Sony, Sanyo, and Samsung (Source: Quick 2015, np link).

Women from all over Mexico flock north to the city of Tijuana to find work in the maquiladoras … along the Mexico-United States border. They come for the promise of a steady income and a better future. More often, what they find is a toxic workplace and a life of desperate poverty. Women are recruited by the maquiladoras to staff the assembly lines because they are thought to be cheap, docile labor (Source: Anon ndb, np link).

Most of these women migrants are young, many are single parents and according to one promotora, Delfina Rodriguez, 'all of them are ignorant' about their rights as workers and women under Mexican law (Source: Treick O’Neill nd, np link).

Corporations are attracted by tax advantages and cheap labor, and workers … are drawn to the border by wages a bit higher than elsewhere in Mexico (Source: Genzlinger 2006, np link).

… workers are paid $11 a day to work in manufacturing plants that provide few bathroom breaks and dangerous working conditions (Source: Anon 2011, np link).

[Here] poverty is so deep that [they] are expected to be grateful for the high-end $11 a day they might earn, to give up hope of ever earning more or of ever seeking better working conditions. … Yet even $11 a day can prove too high a labor cost for today's international manufacturer (Source: Anon 2006a, np link).

[One border city,] Tijuana has attracted so many such factories that it has gained the nickname Maquilapolis (Source: Deming nda, np link).

The film’s title, Maquilapolis, combines the Spanish word 'maquila' with the Greek word for city ('polis') to describe the hybrid character of Tijuana as 'the city of maquilas,' a city that reflects for one cultural commentator the rise of a 'city that may well represent the future' … Located in the Baja California region of Mexico, Tijuana is both a major tourist destination and urban manufacturing center, a major border city in one of the most densely populated border regions in the world. Tijuana is one of many 'industrial cities' that are 'on the rise,' sites pockmarked with extranational export-trading zones, where managerial, transnational elites possess 'flexible citizenship' to travel anywhere, but the local poor have little spatial mobility … It is not just a place where low-paid workers assemble goods, but a place defined by commodities like televisions, as the message on one sign overhanging a highway shown in the film makes clear: 'Tijuana, World Capital of the Television' (with a Panasonic logo affixed next to it). Television serves as a major signifier of the local economy (televisions are one of Tijuana’s prime exports). Though TVs are often considered only as a medium to watch or buy, it behooves us to know how they are made and who makes them (Source: Bui 2015, p.141).

[Maquilapolis] is not conventional journalism. There is no attempt to let the industries or government have a say. But the series is not called 'P.O.V.' - point of view - for nothing: the filmmakers set out to show life as the workers see it, and they succeed, with often appalling clarity (Source: Genzlinger 2006, np link).

[This] participatory documentary … tells the stories of women workers in Tijuana’s multinational factories, and explores through their eyes the transformation of a city and its people by the forces of globalization (Source: ross & Funari 2017, p.283).

[These workers, known as obreras or] maquiladoras shot much of the film footage themselves, and in it, they tell their stories of labor exploitation and environmental degradation at the hands of foreign-owned factories (Source: Orihuela & Hageman 2011, p.167).

While the film may initially appear to rehearse notions of heteronormative conduct with images of mother and children in domestic context, ultimately the film portrays working women as agential and empowered subjects who perform multiple, complex roles as workers, activists, educators, documentarians, caretakers, and heads of household (Source: Avila 2015, p.193).

One thing all the women in Maquilapolis have in common is a sense of agency: they are promotoras, workers who sought out training in human and labor rights from local NGOs and who then committed to pass that knowledge on to their communities (Source: Funari & de la Torre 2006, p.2 link).

The film centres on two women who work in the maquiladoras, Carmen Duràn and Lourdes Lujàn (Source: Jensen-Moulton 2014, p.220).

Carmen and Lourdes represent millions of obreras working for poverty wages in transnational factories globally (Source: Avila 2015, p.190).

Prior to the opening credits, Carmen offers an 'underground shot' of the interior of an unidentified maquila, which includes the sight and sounds of production machinery, the obreras at work along the assembly-line, and the well-kept yet grey, austere environs of the shop floor (Source: Avila 2015, p.192).

… we hear the repetitive sounds of the machines that she hears daily (Source: Jensen-Moulton 2014, p.220).

While the scene lasts only several seconds, offering little indication of exploited feminized labor, it nonetheless symbolically represents an important, however subtle, act of resistance - one that we might refer to as a clandestine, videographic performance. In capturing on film the interior space of a maquila plant, Carmen offers an insightful and poignant narrative of her arrival to Tijuana: 'My name is Carmen Durán. I am a maquiladora worker. I have worked in nine assembly plants. I was 13 years old when I arrived in Tijuana. I was alone here [...] and I decided to stay' (Source: Avila 2015, p.192).

The filmmakers give the documentary a personality with some offbeat cinematic techniques (Source: Genzlinger 2006, np link).

… [by using] some experimental, non-narrative, techniques to shape the mood and meaning of the images (Source: Fojas 2016, p.39).

[Carmen’s] factory scene shifts immediately to striking helicopter cinematography outlining the US-Mexico border, introducing a geographic context for Maquilapolis while the rhythmic sampling of industrial sounds (Source: Jensen-Moulton 2014, p.220).

… the filmmakers offer an aerial view of ten maquila obreras in straight line performing the tasks of assembly-line production in synchronous, mechanical efficiency (Source: Avila 2015, p.199)

.[The] women are dressed alike in blue smocks that indicate their respective positions in one of Tijuana, Mexico’s 4,000 factories (Source: Treick O’Neill nd, np link).

Because [they] have no way to document the machines and their interfacing with them inside the policed maquiladoras, they must demonstrate their labor uncoupled from the machines (Source: Orihuela & Hageman 2011, p.175-6).

[They] perform … circular hand gestures that mimic and mime their activities at work - mind-numbing, body-aching, repetitive movements that often cause bodily injury (Source: Bui 2015, p.137-8).

Push, assemble, remove, push, assemble, remove….They are the manufacturing ‘machines’ corporations so desire in the global economy. Silently, they push, assemble, remove, push, assemble, remove (Source: Treick O’Neill nd, np link).

The soundtrack [for this scene] constructs a pulsating rhythmic drone that marks a distinctive sonic hybrid between early twentieth-century, Fordist production and twenty-first century, advanced, automated production. As the camera slowly makes its way toward a frontal view of the obreras, close-up shots of arms and hands performing the repeating, yet fluid motion of the assembly-line process dominate the screen. The performance draws to a close as the obreras conclude the assembly process, drawing fisted hands to their sides, bodies upright, faces expressionless - mechanical (Source: Avila 2015, p.199).

It becomes this beautifully choreographed dance (Source: Ben-Dov in Landazuri 2007, np link).

…  like a choreographed installation in an abandoned lot (Source: Fojas 2016, p.39).

… like a scene in a Hollywood movie (Source: D’Onofrio 2014, np link).

It is a stylized performance, inviting multiple readings and aesthetic interpretations of the usual instrumentalist conception of 'work' (Source: Bui 2015, p.137-8).

Their work is rendered a kind of dignified aesthetic experience, meditative and graceful. … [Yet] the narrative conveys the oppressive conditions of their work which includes risks to their health, lack of job security, and violation of their rights (Source: Fojas 2016, p.39).

The image of [their] mechanical movement and posture in relation to the plant located above in the distance illustrates the uneven and violent relations of power inscribed and embedded in the visual landscape (Source: Avila 2015, p.199).

Th[is] … striking sequence [is] used several times (Source: Landazuri 2007, np link).

… counter-balanced with personal reflections and accounts of daily life in the city of maquilas (Source: Bui 2015, p.139).

Carmen … gives an on-the-ground … view of the area where she currently lives: 'Now we’re going to video-tape. . . . This is my father-in law’s house. My neighborhood, Lagunita. You can see the factories from here. There’s Sony. There’s my son' (Source: Bui 2015, p.139).

… her son[’s] … charming curiosity about the hand-held camera offers a momentary relief, just as it offers a personal account of everyday life at home, from the seriousness and gravity of the film’s critical content. … Seconds later, Carmen takes us on an excursion into her neighborhood, or colonia, where the struggles of daily life are immediately captured on film as she tracks the movement of a dented, worn pickup truck (emblazoned with the words 'Policía') struggling along a rutted, unpaved road. Shortly afterward, Carmen offers a rather stunning panoramic view of her neighborhood, Lagunitas, a maquila plant overlooking the makeshift houses and dirt roads of the shantytown below. From a lower angle, in closer proximity to the factory shot in the previous segment, the camera zooms in on a Sony plant, again perched high on the hilltop, securely fortified, in panoptic view (Source: Avila 2015, p.193-4).

The blithe insertion of the name 'Sony' into the quotidian landscape of family and home evokes a sense of the synthetic, artificial, built environment constructed by Japanese corporations, looming large in the city (Source: Bui 2015, p.139).

As the shiny, modernized architectural [factory] structures adorned with lush green lawns and spacious parking lots (equipped, of course, with an army of well-trained guards and other security technologies) tell a story of unimpeded economic development in the region, the lived experiences of those surviving in the shantytowns below convey quite a different account (Source: Avila 2015, p.194).

[Carmen explains how she had previously] worked for the American electronics corporation Sanyo, assembling TV parts. She describes her experience in working there: ‘They harassed and pressured us. We were also exposed to all these chemicals … When I started working there, my nose used to bleed. I started having kidney trouble because they wouldn’t let us drink water or go to the bathroom. But I had friends there, and we stayed because we were together. I also stayed because I’m really hardheaded.’ Carmen begins to speak about the struggles that she faced at her job including inhumane treatment that eventually led to medical problems. But as she nears the end of her statement, a smile spreads across her face remembering the camaraderie with her friends and she laughs at herself for being so hardheaded and stubborn while simultaneously stating the fact that she was loyal to her job and took pride in it. This personal anecdote makes the viewer see Carmen as the real person that she is. It prepares the viewer to empathize with her as she continues to tell her story, which is valuable in spreading the reality of what happens to maquiladora workers at the border (Source: Clark 2015, p.36-7 link).

Carmen Duran … arrived in Tijuana - then known as 'The World’s Capital of the Television’ [as a 13 year old]. She started working for Sanyo because it was close to her house; she stayed [there for 6 years] … For a low-skilled Mexican worker, maquiladora jobs pay relatively well, about $11 a day. Too well, it seems, because corporate leaders moved her job to Indonesia where labor costs were much cheaper (Source: Treick O’Neill nd, np link).

Sanyo left without paying severance to its employees (Source: Clark 2015, p.37 link).

As another promotora said, 'They leave with their hands full; ours are empty’ (Source: Treick O’Neill nd, np link).

… community activist Lupita Castañeda explains how 'within globalization, a woman factory worker is like a commodity. And if that commodity is not productive, if she’s not attractive for globalization because she starts to defend her rights, then they look for that commodity elsewhere … We are just objects, objects of labor' (Source: Clark 2015, p.37 link).

… the [film’s] 'flyback' scene … begins innocently enough with a television rotating on top of a draped circular table. However, as we view the back of the television, the internal parts of the television immediately come into focus. It is at this moment that the commodity as product and the commodity as laborer figuratively become indistinguishable. And yet, as Carmen rotates on the display turntable, the internal (and typically concealed) parts that make up the television come into full view with the  [component called the] 'flyback' held in Carmen’s hands. It is also at this moment that the fusion (or conflation) of the object of labor and the objectified laborer takes place, that is to say, the objects of production are revealed undifferentiated upon the rotating table display (Source: Avila 2015, p.197-8).

[Elsewhere in the film, the] filmmakers intersperse sequences of the women displaying the products they assemble and their heads rotating as if products on a display unit while the manufacturers' names appear in text (Source: Quick 2015, np link).

The corporate logos of famous American and Japanese companies are displayed and superimposed over [their] rotating headshots … as they say out loud the names of companies populating Tijuana’s urban landscape: Nellcor, Deltech, La Paloma, Kelmex, Puritan, Mabushi, Hansan Mex, Tocabi, Panasonic. Within circulating logos of monopoly capitalism, the women are able to assert their personhood in the face of their alienation as some of the many 'products' of glorientalized exchange and labor …  [and] reveal… themselves as 'unseen' visual object-subjects and de facto representatives of companies that do not want to acknowledge their existence (Source: Bui 2015, p.143).

Carmen addresses the problematics of the body–machine interface while working the night shift at the Panasonic factory for $11 a day: ‘It’s nice because I’m learning to use computers. . . . The only problem is the lead contamination. You breathe lead every day. . . . I’ve started to get spots and sores on my body. . . . And my doctor says I’m at risk for leukemia. Also, you can’t wash your clothes with those of your children or get close to your kids after you leave work.’ Carmen pinpoints the health problems of learning how to use computers in Japanese-owned factories full of chemicals, where contact with technology poses a danger to her body in the form of anemia and kidney problems. … Women such as Carmen fear for the safety of their kids playing in wet streets that sizzle with static from downed power lines and rivers tainted with the run-off from the factories. Such anxieties confirm the dangers of inhabiting land around 'high-tech' industrial parks lacking in urban infrastructure and overrun with electronic waste. … 'In Lagunitas we don’t have electricity, so we hang wires from the lines. As you can see, all these cables are piled and tangled up. . . . When the wires touch each other, they short-circuit and burn. If a child steps here, he could be electrocuted' (Source: Bui 2015, p.146-7).

The daily, lived reality of consuming heavy metals, which results in conditions such as lead poisoning, an affliction by which lead interferes with healthy bodily processes and results in harm to reproductive and nervous systems, indicates the extent to which the human body is deeply affected and altered by this mode of production (Source: Orihuela & Hageman 2011, p.177-8).

The viewer is taken on a walk through the make-shift slum where workers live, just a short walk from the wire fences and green lawns of the Maquilas. It is these scenes which are perhaps the most heart wrenching for the viewer and clearly demonstrate the intense inequality and injustice of the world economic order and global production process (Source: Tambureno 2013, p.396).

The neighborhood borders an industrial park where factories are accused of leaking toxic wastes, which may be linked to children in the area being born without brains and fingernails (Source: Carcamo 2013, np link).

[Andrea Pedro] Aguilar’s four-year-old daughter, Lupita, shows clear signs of health risks from toxic exposure. Her hair falls out 'by the brush full every day,' and her nose and throat begin to bleed spontaneously (Source: D’Souza 2016, np link).

While showing viewers a long drainage pipe emulating from the back of a factory, which disposes its pollutants directly into the river running through the neighborhood, a gust of wind suddenly picks up, causing the women to cover their faces in reaction to the toxic debris swept up by the breeze, burning their eyes (Source: Tambureno 2013, p.397).

It’s not just the water [that is toxic], it is also the very air the workers breathe, both in the factory - full of adhesives and solvents attacking the respiratory, nervous, and reproductive systems - and in their community, as 8,500 tons of lead, arsenic, cadmium, and other carcinogens become airborne every time the wind blows (Source: Treick O’Neill nd, np link).

In scenes like this, it is difficult to ignore their contention that the whole city is viewed as a large garbage can by multi-nationals. Many of the workers’ homes are loosely constructed from garage doors discarded by U.S. homeowners, and, as these neighborhoods are basically squatters’ camps, there is no sewage, paved roads, or electricity (Source: Tambureno 2013, p.397).

Lourdes … can't just sit by  (Source: Anon 2006a, np link).

[She] details her everyday struggle against environmental contamination in her neighborhood of Chilpancingo. Chilpancingo is home to El Río Alamar, a creek into which over 200 upstream plants deposit their hazardous wastes, which then flow down into the town (Source: D’Souza 2016, np link).

[She] grew up in Chilpancingo and remembers how clear and clean the water was before the majority of the plants were constructed upstream (Source: D’Souza 2016, np link).

[Lourdes] describes how, when she was a child, people in the neighbourhood or colonia would swim and camp along its shores (Source: Fojas 2016, p.39).

[Her’] son plays in the Río Alamar and has developed spots and sores all over his body (Source: D’Souza 2016, np link).

In one amazing scene a light rain begins to fall, and a tiny creek that flows through a squalid community of shacks suddenly, improbably, becomes a raging river. One of the women explains that a rain, even a slight one, gives the factories on the high ground an excuse to jettison their wastewater (Source: Genzlinger 2006, np link).

The river … turns various colours and emits noxious fumes when the factories dump waste into it under the cover of rain. … Lourdes and Carmen … catch the river in full toxic bloom on camera as they jokingly mock-report on it like newscasters (Source: Fojas 2016, p.39).

While Maquilapolis portrays many of neoliberalism’s deleterious effects on women, it also portrays a group of women who are fighting for their rights. The promotora women are fighting back against the companies who break the law without penalty by engaging in various forms of activism, including environmental justice, transnational feminism, disability rights, and worker’s rights (Source: BarbNotBarbie 2013, np link).

As they describe the importance and responsibility of being promotoras, [the soundtrack’s] extended accordion tones are at their most prominent. While these women say that they are beginning to ‘see things differently,’ … we, as viewers and listeners, also begin to hear things differently: what may have been industrial noise a moment ago might now be perceived as music (Source: Jensen-Moulton 2014, p.223).

[Lourdes] has suffered various health issues along with other members of the community so she tries to organize an environmental cleanup at a factory site that was abandoned years before (Source: Clark 2015, p.31-2 link).

[She] traces the abuses of her community's land and people through her battle against the company of Metales y Derivados that allowed tonnes of chemicals to seep into the waterway and soil of the communities (Source: Bachour 2015, p.181).

In the 1980s and 1990s, one factory … called Metales y Derivados … caused most of Río Alamar’s pollution: a battery recycling plant and lead smelter … located one mile away from the United States border. Called 'Metales' by the workers and residents of Chilpancingo, the factory was abandoned in 1994 by its American owner, Jose Kahn, when the factory was ordered to be shut down by PROFEPA, Mexico’s equivalent to the EPA. Kahn fled back to the United States, evading Mexico’s arrest warrant and his responsibility to pay the multi-million dollar environmental damage that his abandoned factory was still causing. Andrea Pedro Aguilar, another resident of Chilpancingo, called the behemoth factory 'her monster,' citing the lead dust that she finds daily on her kids’ toys and the toxic chemicals - arsenic, cadmium, and antimony - that seep into her family’s drinking water and the soil where her kids play. When Metales was still running in 1990, a Mexican university’s survey of the soil in Chilpancingo found lead levels to be over 3,000 times higher than USEPA standards. Even samples taken after almost a decade of the plant’s closure find the lead levels to be almost 100 times higher than USEPA standards. … Faced with the intolerable levels of toxics that come from Metales and travel down the Río Alamar directly to their homes, Luján, Aguilar and other women in the town decided to form an organization dedicated to grassroots activism, community education, and the ultimate goal of holding the United States and Mexican governments responsible for cleaning up the Metales sites. They named this organization El Colectivo Chilpancingo Pro Justicia Ambiental, or the Chilpancingo Collective for Environmental Justice (Source: D’Souza 2016, np link).

… the women form an alliance with a San Diego-based environmental coalition and successfully lobby the Mexican government to enforce labor and ecological laws (Source: Orihuela & Hageman 2011, p.167).

… the local government is eventually forced to clean up the abandoned factory, [but] the CEO … resides on the US side of the border where he is untouchable by Mexican legal action. Public monies are used to clean up the ecological and human devastation while profits generated by these exploitative production practices remain comfortably out of the reach of the law (Source: Orihuela & Hageman 2011, p.173).

[Lourdes] describes with satisfaction her group’s victory in the Mateales y Derivados case, which would result in the cleanup of the car battery plant just up the hill from her home in Chilpancingo. Yet the music - joyous accordion strains remixed … to an irregular, unreliable beat - is overtaken by the minor third alert sound of the maquiladora heard earlier in the film. As [she] crosses a rickety bridge across polluted sludge in order to reach home, the factory sounds remind us that her victory is but a transient one. She must report back to work tomorrow, when she will savor her good work as a promotora while assembling countless videocassettes (Source: Jensen-Moulton 2014, p.224).

Traveling by an industrial park in the Otay Mesa region of the border, Carmen lectures to a van full of activists about the color-coded scheme of the smocks worn by maquila workers. As a group of workers enters the factory, Carmen informs her audience that the color of the smock identifies your rank and 'place' in the factory: 'They see your color and they know who you are: group leader, supervisor, or just an operator'. This subtle yet peculiar image of homogenous labor effectively sets up a later (and significantly related) scene in which the filmmakers appropriate the very color-coded smocks used in the factory in order to illustrate the ways in which this scheme not only demarcates and discursively encloses the subject of maquila labor as abstract, objectified 'things' of maquila production, but also signals organizational efficiency and calculability. … In the following scene, [the filmmakers] carefully position a set of individual smocks of varying colors in and around various parts of downtown Juárez and the surrounding colonias located in proximity to the maquila plants. For example, the filmmakers place a blue smock upon a wire hanger perched high above an overpass located near a maquila plant. As the blue smock sways to a mild breeze upon the overpass, the voice of an obrera interrupts this seemingly tranquil and innocent reverie: 'I am from the state of Michoacán. There are no jobs there like we have here' (Maquilapolis). Subsequent images of different color-coded smocks run in succession as the voices—and only the voices—of obreras accompany each of the different smocks on display: 'I am from Guadalajara, Jalisco;' 'I am from Sola de Vega, Oaxaca;' 'I am from Mazatlán;' 'I was born in Sinaloa' (Maquilapolis) (Source: Avila 2015, p.197).

… because they are seen simply as a commodity to these corporations that own the maquiladoras, operations moved to Southeast Asia[, t]hese women … begin to realize that they are seen as worthless (Source: Clark 2015, p.37 link).

Carmen observes after the shutting of her factory: 'In 2001, with the global economic crisis and the availability of cheaper labor in Asia, Mexico’s boom gave way to a bust. Lots of factories closed, and lots of people were unemployed.' She goes on to suggest that the recruitment of female labor in Mexico is falling due to the cheaper costs of hiring female labor in Asia: ‘I can’t forget the time I spent pounding the pavement in the industrial parks. I was unemployed for two years. In two years, 350,000 jobs disappeared. Tijuana is no longer attractive. The Asian countries are. It’s the same idea: they want the women workers, but at a lower cost.’  Women workers in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and India stand at the 'low-end' spectrum of global Asia, representing Asian countries poorer than Mexico now turned into prime destinations for cheap factory work refined under the maquila system (Source: Bui 2015, p.143-4).

The film reaches its climax when, lacking support from factory labor unions (which are virtual unions paid for and used by many Asian corporations to cover up their wrongdoings), maquila women bring a lawsuit against two major Japanese conglomerates, Sanyo and Sony, the two largest companies in Tijuana. Lacking legal consultation with the Mexican government, the women find legal advice from a fellow national, who tells them 'Sanyo and Sony set the example of how things will work in Tijuana.' The two Japanese companies want to use this case as a legal precedent to keep exploiting women, but if the activists successfully challenge Sanyo and Sony’s corporate practices, this creates a powerful legal precedent of labor injustice with international repercussions. Indeed, Sanyo knowingly broke the law when it sent 'flyback' product lines to Indonesia, avoiding severance pay for the maquila women and blaming them instead for failing to 'finish' the product. Such underhanded activities evidence the power of Japanese companies to traverse global spaces like apparitions (Source: Bui 2015, p.149).

'It’s like David and Goliath,' Carmen observed. 'See, you’re David and we’re fighting Goliath, this world famous company.' Sanyo saw the severance case as precedent-setting, and offered each woman $860 to end their case; the average labor arbitration board settlement is just $300 to $400. Carmen and her co-workers refused the company’s offer and pressed their case, ultimately receiving severance payments of $2,500 for Carmen and $2,000 for her co-workers (Source: Treick O’Neill nd, np link).

The film concludes with a meeting between Sony and Panasonic heads and maquila activists fending off corporate efforts to throw monetary compensation at their injuries. 'Don’t make it so hard for me! Just tell me what you want!' one corporate representative screams. It’s not even 'enough to buy a TV set,' responds one of the women. 'You’ve got a TV already, why do you want another one?' the man responds, taking literally the woman’s sarcastic comment about the meager amount of the corporate offer. Once again, the television serves as the form of currency that mediates the local political economy, spotlighting how the workers’ labor is cheapened, their labor compensation not worth the product they make. Meanwhile, the owner takes the women only as consumers (not laborers), not understanding why they would want another television to buy (Source: Bui 2015, p.150-1).

While Maquilapolis shows that globalization gives corporations the freedom to move around the world seeking cheaper labor and more lax environmental regulations, it also demonstrates how organized workers can successfully demand that the laws be enforced (Source: Anon ndc, np link).

… according to a voice-over: 'Tijuana today has many faces. It’s the Tijuana of the migrant, of injustice, of hunger, of insecurity, and of the maquiladora but it’s also the Tijuana of dreams.' Toward this end, the movie draws to a close with a scene of maquiladora women standing in the open, barren desert again, the repetitive performance of factory work casting light on women’s entrenched struggles in the US-Mexico borderlands (Source: Bui 2015, p.151-2).

We’ve always looked at the workers as some sort of heroes, that no matter how hard their lives are, they are still working, not only for themselves, but also for their communities. And even though lo que lograron (their achievements) are pretty miniscule, almost invisible, they are extremely hopeful stories. They are really strong examples that if you work for something collectively, you can actually get somewhere (Source: Fregoso 2010, p.179).

Inspiration / Technique / Process / Methodology

Maquilapolis escapes easy classification as an artistic or documentary piece by transcending many genres to include elements of experimentalism, impressionism, voyeurism, and cinema verité to expose the fragmentary story and assemblage of global modernity. Maquilapolis forms part of a new wave of documentary films beginning in the 1990s that transformed the medium, distorting the lines between narrative and social observation, signalling major changes in thinking about identity, representation, and art (Source: Bui 2015, p.139).

It was a revolutionary use of the medium, one that has become a best practice in the field today. 'What we were doing was groundbreaking,' Funari told us over the phone recently, 'but it was also part of a change that was sweeping through the documentary world - both at the level of filmmakers who really wanted to use their films differently, and of funders who were realizing that films were not being as effective in the world as they could be’ (Source: Anon 2019, np link).

Documentaries play a key role in exposing complex, nuanced stories involving injustice and corruption. In the early 2000s, Vicky Funari and Sergio de la Torre found themselves at the vanguard of a new wave of filmmakers that used the documentary medium as a way to galvanize support for a range of issues, from environmental justice to women’s rights. In 2001, the artists received the Creative Capital Award to make Maquilápolis … Beyond telling this story, Funari and De La Torre sought to merge filmmaking with community development by collaborating with the women, who were themselves community organizers fighting to improve their situations (Source: Anon 2019, np link).

Maquilapolis is the result of independent and collective binational efforts by Vicky Funari and Sergio De La Torre in collaboration with the women of Grupo Factor X, Chilpancingo Collective for Environmental Justice, and Women’s Rights Advocates, co-produced by the Independent Television Service and partially funded by the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund. The film approaches worker struggle on the border with little regard for marketability or accessibility (Source: Fojas 2016, p.37-8).

We sought to merge art-making with community development and to ensure that the film’s voice would be truly that of its subjects. As to our personal motivations for making this film, we are both artists who believe that art can and does participate in a cultural dialogue concerning social change and justice. Our work is informed by our own hybrid lives: Vicky is a U.S. citizen who grew up in four countries and six cities, including Mexico City. Sergio is a U.S. and Mexican citizen who was raised in Tijuana and migrated to the San Francisco Bay Area as an adult. Our work on Maquilapolis is part of our ongoing investigations into biculturality, migration, gender, and labor (Source: Funari & de la Torre in Anon ndd np link). 

My co-director Sergio is originally from Tijuana and he had introduced my previous films to an organisation in Tijuana called [Case de la Mujer] Grupo Factor X (Source: Funari in Funari & de la Torre 2015, np link).

Every year more women working in the maquiladoras of Tijuana seek legal counseling at Casa de la Mujer [Grupo] Factor X. They report exposure to toxic substances, unrecorded work accidents, sexual harassment, and unjustified terminations due to pregnancy. ... The Casa’s roots trace back to 1985, when a small group of women opened up a Tijuana home to provide support services to working women. Over the years demand increased and the group evolved into a registered non-profit organization. ... To achieve its goals, the Casa trains promotoras, or community organizers, to educate and organize women in their communities and work places (Source: Anon nde, np link).

Factor X brought 14 factory workers a year to their office, which had a cafeteria, a child care center, a classroom and also provided therapy for some of the workers. Every weekend for a whole year, the organization would train these workers on issues like human rights, labor rights and domestic violence (Source: Anon 2006b, np link).

Lourdes and Carmen met in … Factor X (Source: Bui 2015, p.137).

[When we started to work with Factor X, it] was training factory workers in labour rights and reproductive health and helping  them find ways to better their situation (Source: Funari in Funari & de la Torre 2015, np link).

… we wanted to borrow and mimic what they were doing. So we worked with [them], using some of their already-established resources to develop the film, which not only included the stories, but also the structure of collaborating with the workers (Source: de la Torre in Anon 2006b, np link).

… the women who were going through these trainings were at this point of discovery in their lives (Source: Funari in Funari & de la Torre 2015, np link).

Who do we want to hear from? We don’t want to hear from the people that have already had the mic since mics were invented. So the unifying thrust is making sure that people get heard (Source: Funari in ross & Funari 2017, 291).

Vicky Funari and Sergio De La Torre traveled to Tijuana with video equipment and established a workshop for women working in the maquiladoras which would give them an opportunity to put their stories onscreen; three sweatshop employees-turned-activists who took part in the program collaborated with Funari and De La Torre to create Maquilapolis: City of Factories … to inform and empower rather than to generate pity for the factory workers (Source: Deming ndb, np link).

We wanted to figure out a way to make a film that would serve Grupo Factor X in the work they were doing, but we also wanted it to be something that would be useful to these really dynamic women who were living lives of struggle as maquiladora workers (Source: de la Torre in Anon 2019, np link).

Funari suggested that the important part of the process was developing a strategy to give the people featured in the film 'a voice in how that film looks, sounds, what it covers, and how it gets used' (Source: Anon 2019, np link).

The main characters in the film were involved in every stage of production, including planning, shooting, scripting, and outreach - using filmmaking to create a community engagement strategy, mobilize partners and organizations, and precipitate results (Source: Anon 2019, np link).

Sergio de la Torre: We knew at the beginning that we wanted to bring our video cameras and introduce them to the process of making a film, from the very beginning. We had … video-making workshops and also video watching, because we also brought a library of videos that they would watch. We had discussions about representation. You know, how you as a factory worker ares seen through the media (in) not only films but also newspapers. So, .. how can you talk about yourself though video, in this case? Vicky Funari: We really wanted to give the women an opportunity to express themselves and tell their stories and, in fact, use the process as a furthering of their own, sort of, self organising. So, to me, what’s important to me about the film is not whether it’s documentary or fiction or a written report. What’s important is it came out of a collective process and that it’s a completely subjective account (Source: Funari & de la Torre 2015, np link).

Through this process, [Funari and de la Torre] could 'work in a collaborative way with the workers to come up with the themes and imagery of the film.' [They] were able to tell their story in a way that addressed labor rights, environmental justice, fair trade, and women’s rights. 'For women workers in the maquiladoras, all of the issues are intertwined together,' said Funari, 'you can’t deal with one without dealing with the others as well' (Source: Anon 2019, np link).

It took about three years to even begin the filmmaking work. … This workshop model was used throughout production, extending to workshops in writing narratives, rough cut feedback meetings, editing, and finally planning an engagement campaign (Source: Anon 2019, np link).

For five years the women documented their daily lives and the events in their communities, often giving the film the intimate tone of a video diary (Source: Anon ndc, np link).

Throughout the documentary, the[y] narrate scenes as they film on small hand held camcorders (Source: Fojas 2016, p.38).

The[y] … commandeer cameras to tell a story that involves their struggle against the factory owners. Their activist work is not mediated by either the filmmakers, in the case of the documentary, or the unions that … are under the employ of the owners, not the workers. They make the decisions about how they will organise and act, and shape the direction of their own futures (Source: Fojas 2016, p.38). 

This is rare for a documentary film, which would normally record the situation from an outside perspective (Source: Clark 2015, p.32-3 link).

[Funari and de la Torre argue that] this 'collaborative process breaks with the traditional documentary practice of dropping into a location, shooting and leaving with the ‘goods,’ which would only repeat the pattern of the maquiladora itself' (Source: Fojas 2016, p.38). 

Thus, the film was made with equitable input from all those involved and without the attitude that enables ‘‘natural resources,’’ including human beings, to be exploited and abandoned (Source: Orihuela & Hageman 2011, p.171).

Even though the film is credited to Funari and De La Torre, the names of the women are credited as well and the filmmakers articulate how essential their role was in the completion of the film (Source: Clark 2015, p.32-3 link).

The women’s collective efforts to use mediamaking as a political tool reflects the ideals of the the New Latin American Cinema movement of the 1960s - which included cross-border collaborations … - to use cinema to create social change. This movement coincides with the precepts of the Chicano and civil rights movements’ emphasis on social justice and antiracism in the struggle for self-determination and equality. Maquilapolis fulfils these ideals for a new era in which economic instability leads to full blown crisis, the impact of which is more far ranging for the margins, and the poor on both sides of the border (Source: Fojas 2016, p.39).

Mohanty writes, ‘Feminist work which blurs the distinction [between woman and women]  … eventually ends up constructing monolithic images of ‘third world women’ by ignoring the complex and mobile relationships between their historical materiality on the level of specific oppressions and political choices, on the one hand, and their general discursive representations, on the other.’ By this definition, Funari’s film certainly falls under the rubric of a transnational feminist text. In particular her envoicing of the women workers through the practice of giving them their own video cameras helps to deconstruct the general conception of maquiladora workers as helpless victims, all the same, without individual identity (Source: Jensen-Moulton 2014, p.224).

Maquilapolis [also] represents a continuation of feminist and activist film scoring by [Pauline] Oliveros. Vicky Funari … first contacted the composer about creating a musical soundscape for the 1998 documentary Paulina. Funari’s first film - which she wrote and directed - documents the tragic life of Paulina Suarez, whose parents trade her at age thirteen to a village man in exchange for land rights (Source: Jensen-Moulton 2014, p.212).

For the soundtrack of Maquilapolis, [Pauline] Oliveros emphasises interaction between the human performers over a tape of sampled environmental noises heard by workers during the course of their daily shifts. Through her manipulation of these everyday sounds, Oliveros transforms oppressive factory noises into powerful, consciousness-raising music that complicates issues of gender, nationality and global economics (Source: Jensen-Moulton 2014, p.212).

Originally, when Funari described the Maquilapolis project, Oliveros had agreed to collaborate with a Tijuana musicians collective called Nortec for some of the film’s music (Source: Jensen-Moulton 2014, p.214).

[Oliveros’s] collaboration [with Nortec) begins to deconstruct the western notion of an original film score composed by one person alone (Source: Jensen-Moulton 2014, p.215).

When I asked Oliveros about Nortec, she noted that Funari had set up the whole collaboration and that there was ‘no written material’ but ‘all audio both ways’. The musicians in Nortec have become an increasingly important force in electronic dance music, combining sounds from their native Mexico with beats, both sampled and improvised (Source: Jensen-Moulton 2014, p.214)

For the music specifically conceived for Maquilapolis, Oliveros ‘suggested that Vicky [Funari] record the sounds in Tijuana,’ thinking it ‘important to include the sounds of the environments and to mix them into the music.’ The environment sounds recorded from the factories in Tijuana engender awareness of the maquilas’ exterior situation and geographic location, while the resonant accordion tones that Oliveros mixes with these factory sounds focus the listener’s attention on the women as individuals with unique standpoints and dynamic personal journeys (Source: Jensen-Moulton 2014, p.220).

Nortec’s … Bostich and Fussible added their personal production signatures to the audio tracks they received from Oliveros to bring her music - primarily based in an electro acoustic art music aesthetic - into line with their Tijuana club sound. In the same way that the Nortec collective believed that a Mexican band should not sound like a band from Europe, Bostich and Fussible transformed Oliveros’s accordion drones and ambient chirps into pieces with regular discernible beats, heavy bass, and local Tijuana rhythmic color in the form of particular dance patterns such as cumbia … Thus, the electronic dance music standard that pervades much of the Tijuana popular music scene also serves as the most prominent soundscape for the film (Source: Jensen-Moulton 2014, p.214).

In [one scene] we can hear the distinct style of Nortec producer Bostich in his piece ‘Polaris’, which begins with a percussion riff straight out of cumbia and then continues its rhythmic accordion inflections at medium tempo, with a neat regular enough for dance music. … Funari foregrounds the piece … to underscore part of the film that has no spoken dialogue from onscreen individuals; ‘Polaris’ accompanies stop-time video of a maquiladora’s construction, along with voice-overs of maquilas, who simply list exactly what they assemble every day at work. Funari’s choice of track communicates the feelings of hope that come with the construction of a new factory, which will undoubtedly provide more jobs, but also the relentless progress of technology and the speed of capital. But Bostich’s repetitive patterns, though ideal for dance music, also symbolise the oppressively repetitive tasks performed by the factory workers in the maquiladoras (Source: Jensen-Moulton 2014, p.216).

Funari: I couldn’t help but be inspired by seeing the fact that someone who’s putting up with more than I could ever imagine myself putting up with is doing it, and then doing more. Seeing that gives me hope and makes me feel that there might be a way through this. So that’s why I feel like I’m less cynical – despite all the cruddy things that are happening in the world right now – as a result of this film. It makes me think that if … Carmen can do it and Lourdes can do it, then maybe we’ll find our way. … De La Torre: Unlike Vicky, I’m still cynical, I’m not sure I have hope. (Laughs.) But through making this film I think I understand my mom better. My mom was widowed when I was seven, and so she was a single parent and worked a lot when I was growing up. I remember going with my mom to meetings and doing everyday things like paying bills or picking things up. During filming I felt very close to the kids of the factory workers. I remember going home to just a mother and not a father (Source: Anon 2006b, np link).

Discussion / Responses

[Maquilapolis is a] well crafted and emotionally stirring documentary (Source: Tambureno 2013, p396).

I'm glad they made this video. Hopefully it will open peoples' eyes, and make them more tolerant and understanding (Source: briantravelman 2016, np link).

That story of the individual, striving, capitalist self is twisted round - and not necessarily dismantled - in weird and beautiful ways (Source: Barba de chiva 2007, np link).

Overall a very proper and artistic representation. These womens strength and determination really shows through such a sad tough reality (Source: elirakis 2006, np link).

The women in this program are quite incredible, especially Carmen … [She] is such a strong, loving woman that she completely wins your heart (Source: Scott 2010, np link).

I was so proud of the woman. It is so bad what is happening in Mexico (Source: Guzman 2013, np link).

For an uplifting documentary, 'Maquilapolis' sure is dismaying (Source: Genzlinger 2006, np link).

[It] is a compelling look at the high, hidden costs of the global economy (Source: Shaiken in Anon ndc, np link)!

[It] does a superb job in demonstrating how globalization improves people’s lives on the surface but has an unfavorable underbelly (Source: Coffta 2007, np link).

The whole thing seemed like a moving picture response to [the] question … What is Globalization (Source: Barba de chiva 2007, np link)?

Wow ... what a Bunch of environmental nuts these women are! #Sarcasm (Source: Lydia_Tiger 2012, np link).

My teacher made me watch this and write a essay on it (Source: Durovic 2017, np link).

… love my teacher, even more for make me open eyes to the reality (Source: Valencia 2018, np link).

Wish teachers here in Brazil would recommend this documentary too, capitalism needs boundaries and rules people here don't understand that … Where are you guys from (Source: Chuckichanly 2020, np link)?

i have to watch this for my class lol this was boring af (Source: Lora 2016, np link).

saaame (Source: frick frack 2016, np link).

Lol^ but don't. You should consider this as an epiphany towards how life is like in these border towns and how United State companies are exploiting these women. For your comment it shows how ethical and how poorly you are as what I'm guessing a citizen of the United States. The sense of a person you are is downright shameful. I hope karma finds you (Source: moretomonica 2018, np link).

People sometimes struggle associating real persons with concepts like sweat shops, corporate exploitation of the helpless, etc. This video can help us do just that (Source: Kyle 2017, np link).

Seeing this from the point of view of these ladies has really opened my eyes to how tragic and dire this exploitation is. It is completely inhuman to treat communities and the environment this way. I have read much, but this video made it so tangible (Source: Sara M 2017, np link).

The Sanyo, Panosonic and other companies who knowingly expose any individuals to toxic chemicals should not be allowed to exist anywhere in the world. To not pay severance of $2,400 when closing to move to Asia? How can profit mean so much more than human life (Source: Kimiko 2011, np link)?

[This movie d]emonstrates the manner foreign politics such as NAFTA force many people out of their homelands in order to survive. The capitalist maquiladora system turns human beings into disposable labor that is viewed as expendable. Human lives are no longer valued in order for capitalism to thrive (Source: uribe 2015, np link).

[It] shows that with globalization, companies can pick up and move anywhere at anytime. In this particular case, many of the maquiladoras in Tijuana have moved to Asia, where they have access to even cheaper labor (Source: BarbNotBarbie 2013, np link).

Many documentaries of this sort emphasize the personal impacts of a problem and underemphasize the larger issues that shape these personal impacts. I have never seen a documentary that has done a better job of relating the personal to the global. The film deals with broader and philosophical questions in addition to examining the particular and peculiar (Source: Coffta 2007, np link).

[It] works very well to expose the most common experiences of Mexicans dependent on the maquiladora model. Today, approximately 1 million Mexicans rely on the sector for their livelihoods and the majority of plants remain assembly intensive. Maquiladoras are responsible for near to half of Mexico’s total export earnings, reinforcing that the industry is still a substantial component of national economic development. Most importantly, the footloose quality of the sector is clearly emerging. Since the early 2000s, Mexico has lost over 500 maquiladoras, with three quarters of these pulling out of the border states. Stories abound about plants relocating to Asia - Royal Philips Electronics whisked 900 jobs out of Ciudad Juarez in July of 2002 and proceeded to China; Sanyo Electric shut two plants in Tijuana, yanked 1,884 jobs from the city, and headed for Indonesia as well as China; Canon closed its inkjet plant in Tijuana and has reappeared in Vietnam... If not representing the cutting edge of the maquiladora industrialization model, the stories within Maquilapolis certainly emphasize the most common patterns of the industry and reiterate the outcomes of practices that have long been criticized. Speculating on what the maquiladora model will mean for Mexico in the future, given the stories within the documentary and the current economic circumstances, allows for larger discussion on the contemporary impacts of globalization, work and survival, and development (Source: Sorrensen 2009, np link).

Maybe the most compelling collapsing-boundary theme has to do with the film’s subtext regarding the complicated relationship between global capital and the individual self ... The film emphasizes the idea that maquiladoras were constructed with the confidence that masses of nameless, uncomplaining women, most of them from poor rural communities in the south of Mexico would readily arrive to become color-coded (‘blue smocks are for operators’) components of the factory production of other components. That mass anonymity makes them cheap, it makes empathy with them difficult; it makes invisible their role in the construction of the computer monitor with which I am currently blinding myself. Maquilopolis counters that anonymity by giving these women cameras, and they in turn show us who, individually, they are, lead-sick, weary, and, on the whole, apparently happier than the guy who almost ran over me in a Hummer earlier today (Source: Barba de chiva 2007, np link).

One of the most thought-provoking moments in the film is when a Tijuana labor leader thinks aloud about the relationship between corporations and the government. With both the government and the companies shirking their responsibility to the communities, Jaime Cota asks, ‘Who is worse: The one who pays for sin or the one who sins for pay?’ For a moment, the viewer thinks about the possible trade-offs before realizing that this rhetorical question digs deep into the assumptions underlying the marriage of democracy and capitalism (Source: Stewart 2007, np link).

LOL. Did every teacher assign this video? I watched it for class as well, and I am really glad my teacher assigned it. Amazing, eye opening video on real Mexican life. So sad, it almost made me cry (Source: briantravelman 2016, np link).

My response to the film was one of anger. I felt angry at what these industrial factories were doing to the environment and thus, to the community’s health, as well as the dangerous working conditions for the workers. … I reacted this way because the environment affects the health of entire community as evident in the film. Also, I am strongly pro-unions, so when these women’s worker rights were violated I felt very angry and wanted them to organize even though the industries make it exceedingly difficult (Source: Feminist Musing 2012, np link).

But the horrible problems that have occurred in Mexico, such as pollution causing babies to be born without fingernails or brains, aren’t unique to globalization per se. It is probably more accurate to say that these things are the awful pains that occur when a country goes through the wrenching social, economic, and environmental changes that correspond with an industrial revolution. Just ask America at the turn of the century or China at present (Source: Stewart 2007, np link).

While I was watching the film, I kept thinking: If these factories moved from Mexico to Asia, I wonder how bad conditions are in a place like China that doesn’t have civil society mechanisms like those that eventually brought justice in Maquilapolis (Source: Stewart 2007, np link).

Most Americans don’t want to even know about what is happening along the border or it gets overshadowed by the violence associated with the drug cartels. One of the ironies about the pollution is that much of it is being sent to California via a small stream. So much for the EPA [US Environmental Protection Agency] (Source: Blanda 2010, np link).

[US President] Trump and [conservative talk show host Sean] Hannity should visit the neighborhoods and factories shown in this video. Not some hole in the fence or drug warehouse. See how regular Mexicans are living their lives. Maybe THAN they will realize why so many of them come here (Source: briantravelman 2016, np link).

Trump isn't their president. It's his job to take care of THIS country, not everywhere else. Sorry but they are taking over the United States of America. I feel sorry for them, my heart hurts for them & I would love to help them, whatever I could do but we have to worry about our own first. Americans can't even get jobs because foreign people have them instead of us (Source: Brock 2018, np link).

You should fight for your government to take back your assembly plants … to the US and pay workers 20 dollars a week, yeah, I would like to see that (Source: Pineda 2019, np link).

we do the jobs y'all dont want or have to do, id like to see yall work in the factories if u want ur jobs so bad (Source: Flor 2020, np link).

… the film is filled with the imagery of what we consider in the United States to be unlivable urban poverty: floorless houses constructed of discarded garage doors, bathwater heated over an outdoor fire, wires - delivering pirated electricity - snapping and popping in streets muddied with raw sewage (Source: Barba de chiva 2007, np link).

This was so much to take in with how appalling conditions are. I saw open electrical wires, roads cut off by industrial runoff and a politician lie his ass off to no end, no matter what I saw these women smile so damn much. Most people were and that right there made me so happy yet so ashamed that we Americans ever complain (Source: Michael 2019, np link).

It’s funny that these women want a better life, safer workplace, higher wages, and cleaner environment. I hope they remember that American workers wanted the same thing and within a few short decades of getting it, the factory owners picked up and left them behind and opened up the factories in Mexico. What will the companies do when Mexican workers ask too much? Will they happily comply? Or will they abandon the Mexicans too in search of cheaper labor and lesser restrictions (Source: dostoyevskyfan 2010, np link)?

Thank God they had a job and earned money, otherwise they would have been even poorer (Source: Gardelitozz 2020, np link).

… people do not have to thank large companies that exploit them and ruin their environment … you can play capitalism without burdening the health and environment of the people but if you do not know that, you also need to study more economics (Source: Gaxxter 2020, np link).

Nobody put a gun to their heads to work (Source: Gardelitozz 2020, np link).

Oh, my God, maybe for some, working in a certain section of the economy is something that you can freely choose, however, in the environment that the documentary proposes, these jobs are obviously the decent option that people with limited resources and without educational training have. … choosing whether to eat or work in the maquilas is the gun that they put on their heads (Source: Gaxxter 2020, np link).

This film is part of what is going on in the maquila. There has been several deaths in the maquilas thanks to NAFTA and the so called ‘first world countries’. All they do is exploit because they think we aren’t conscience of what is going on, but we work to survive and because they take the work away from the campesinos! That’s why the EZLN [Mexican Zapatista Army of National Liberation] outcoming rose, because the indigenous pueblo is oppressed. Tonto xenophobic ‘first world countries’, remember that karma is mean and it will come and bite you in the pompa! O wait, it already has with the economic crisis! And know we students have to pay more because the ‘first world countries’ are going broke! Brujos man … their going brujos!! … What is being done? Nothing, actually more is being done! More maquilas are being planted in unnecessary places!!!! pero puees what can we do? Work to survive!! I myself am exploited, pero I have to work to pay of those EXTRA 121 dlls that the government is know charging due to the economic crisis!! I have to work to survive, even if it means being paid a misery (Source: Cindy 2009, np link)!!

I had the opportunity to watch this documentary on PBS this morning. I was amazed with the amount of information. However, upon closer look, I realized that the English translation is somewhat poor and I wanted to bring it to the attention of the filmakers. I find it saddening that the same powerful message that is transmitted in Spanish isn’t transmitted in English. If you could please acknowledge this point, it would be much appreciated. If you need help in the translation process, I would be happy to be of help (Source: Jenny 2010, np link).

‘Schade nur, dass es bislang noch keine Fassung mit deutschen Untertiteln gibt. Denn der Film eignet sich auch hervorragend für ein Publikum, das mit dem Thema noch wenig vertraut ist.’ [It’s a pity that there is no version of the film with German subtitles yet. The film is perfectly suitable for an audience which is not familiar with the topic] (Source: Lebuhn 2006, np link).

This is a film that is very interestingly taped with a mixture of film still shots, computer images, words, shots from the point of view of the cameraman and point of view of the women. They directors gave cameras to the women to bring home and shoot some of their own footage which helps us to really immerse ourselves in their lives (Source: elirakis 2006, np link)

This is the worst directed documentary ever. Every shot and ‘artistic’ decision the director took made me want to punch a baby in the face (Source: Agundez 2013, np link).

My only criticism is the fairly frequent use of high frame rate filming as a visual stunt. In the assessment of this reviewer, it is fairly drawn out and visually unappealing. This, however, is a minor detail and does not diminish the overall power of this work (Source: Coffta 2007, np link).

… women are winning labor disputes and their demands for toxic cleanups are being met by the national government (Source: Sorrensen 2009, np link).

… those in the maquilas refused to relinquish their dignity, providing all of us with a sense of hope (Source: alien9542 2008, np link).

My first assumption was to presume some recourse for the individual: a sympathetic ear in the government, a union or other infrastructure for factory workers to rally behind, anything. Maquiapolis showed that there was none. If you complain you get fired; if you unionize the entire factory moves to a land cheaper and more forgiving of mistreatment. Near the middle of the movie the sheer inevitability of one population (Western consumers) dictating the lives and collective health of another (workers in developing nations) seemed crushing (Source: alien9542 2008, np link).

At the end of the documentary, one of the women says ‘está largo el camino, pero no pierdo las esperanzas’. At face value, this holds a lot of hope. Hearing this really struck a chord with me. It broke my heart and made me sad and angry and I still have a hard time articulating what it makes me feel. It makes me think of my family and I can hear them say things like this and they have, and they do say things like this. It makes me think that some people may think things are ok just because those who are being exploited have hope. It makes me think that some people will let crap like this slide because ‘hey, they’re keeping their chin up, and that’s really inspiring.’ No. No no no. None of this is ok and no one should have to hold onto ‘hope’ when things are absolute shit. I can’t articulate (Source: thisismymoniker 2012, np link).

This movie highlights how socially AND environmentally unsustainable the current labor system is. Companies pay the poor too little money to compensate them for the damage their labor is causing to their personal health. At the same time, is the extra profit the company makes from cheap labor enough to justify dangerous working conditions and extreme damage to the environment? Most importantly, what can we do to fix this current state of things? More government regulations? More responsibly designed products? Less consumption of products in general (Source: missknee 2008, np link)?

The fundamental question that emerged from this film was that of accountability. While companies are free to go anywhere, with their capital as well as health and environmental impact, the workers they employ cannot. Who is to take responsibility for labor, public services, environmental protection, and health care? Who is more to blame for the current situation, the foreign corporations or the national government that let them in? If we consider the multiple facets of identity, it appears to me that nationality and class are the clashing forces contributing to this situation. Decision-makers in foreign corporations are “othered” from their employees by being non-Mexican as well as members of a wealthy elite. This constructs two barriers of separation behind which to hide from unethical practices, demonstrating the power of perceived difference between peoples. Conversely, the high-ranking officials in the Mexican government may feel solidarity with these women workers in terms of nationality, but they are still separated by different class (and also probably gender). To what extent do these diverse social identities inhibit these women’s efforts to bring about positive change in their communities (Source: Sybil 2013, np link)?

People get so caught up in the politics like 'oh well its their governments fault', well guess what we are the consumers and we can demand changes as well. They are humans not objects (Source: Yajaira 2020, np link).

Like turning a light switch and expecting the room to light, or the child assuming produce comes from supermarkets, the Western world seems to take for granted that consumer goods (and electronics in particular) arrive at their doorsteps. Everything from electric cords to batteries are MADE somewhere, the product of someone ELSE laboring and risking their health to assemble objects that the consumer, in turn, sees with ‘WARNING: TOXIC: DO NOT DISMANTLE’ labels (Source: alien9542 2008, np link).

The clothes you have on now, where probably made in a maquiladora, people have risked their health, their lives, they sweated over making those clothes!! You paid about 20 bucks, they got paid 10 cents! People are being put in danger just so you could put some clothing you probably didn’t even need… how sad no (Source: Cindy 2009, np link)?

This film is an amazing expose of the tough times big corporations give to people.  They could EASILY pay them ALL a fair wage. Give them benefits, so that when the pollution from THEIR factories makes them ill and gives them possibly fatal disease (leukemia, radiation poisoning, etc.) they might be able to fight for their health to raise their families. It is such a shame that people can be so greedy while these communities are living TRAGIC lives. everyone deserves a chance at health and happiness (Source: Dombrowski 2014, np link).

As an aspiring product designer, the realities of mass production disturb me. Though there is a growing push for ‘cradle to cradle’ design, where designers must think about all aspects of the product’s life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials to social, health, economic and environmental implications of its manufacture, use, and disposal - things still have to be made en masse if a company wants to make a sizable profit. Will even the most sensitive product be completely harmless to make, sell, and dispose of? It seems like someone always gets the short end of the stick. In the movie, the women spoke of how they often lost their jobs to southeast Asia or India. What happens when laborers in developing nations start demanding and expecting the same rights as workers in countries they’re making the products for (Source: missknee 2008, np link)?

By contrast [to Maquilapolis], in [the] ‘Behind the Swoosh’ [documentary] we observe a difference approach for demanding social justice. In this short film, two American activists travel to Indonesia to experience life as a Nike factory worker. Unlike in ‘Maquilapolis’ … this film does not focus so much on the voices of the people themselves, but rather on those of the American NGO members who are working to help them. … Which approach do you all think is more effective in demanding lasting change: Maquilapolis’ local women targeting the national government, or Behind the Swoosh’s outsiders targeting the multinational corporation (Source: Sybil 2013, np link)?

Impacts / Outcomes

MAQUILAPOLIS is complete, but the Maquila Project is ongoing as we continue working towards our goals in the form of a binational Community Outreach Campaign (Source: Funari & de la Torre 2006, p.2 link).

The team had partnered with many organizations working with different issues addressed in the film. For instance, because one character had to deal with a departing factory owner’s creation of a major toxic waste site along the border, Environmental Health Coalition in San Diego became a key partner on the engagement campaign of the project. Once the film was complete, the filmmakers gathered their partner organizations, a group of the promotoras, and key advisors together in a two-day stakeholders’ meeting to envision and plan a binational community engagement campaign (Source: Anon 2019, np link).

When we started working on the documentary, we knew that we would have different audiences, including an American audience and a Mexican audience (Source: De La Torre in Anon 2006b, np link).

The [Maquilapolis] campaign utilizes [this] high-profile [PBS] public television broadcast, top tier film festivals and community screenings of the film to create meaningful social change around the issues of globalization, social and environmental justice and fair trade. Our outreach team includes dedicated activists on both sides of the border, media makers committed to social change, and most importantly a group of women factory workers struggling to bring about positive change in their world’ (Source: Fojas 2016, p.37-8).

In constructing a collaboration with the promotoras, we had two goals: to create a documentary that is powerful and useful to the people who most need to see and show it, including the promotoras themselves; and to further their own work by providing them with the equipment and skills to create their own activist videos in the future (Source: Funari & de la Torre 2006, p.2 link).

When it was time to show the work at film festivals, Funari believed it was important to bring the women from the film to talk about the project, rather than just the directors. 'I wanted to use the festivals as a way to promote the activism that these women were doing. Ruby [Lerner from funder Creative Capital] was one of the only funders who initially understood that being able to pay for a plane ticket for a factory worker in Tijuana to go to Barcelona or Denmark to speak about her life experience was an element of engagement. That, in and of itself, had a politics to it.' The film had a successful run at festivals around the world, and it ended up premiering on POV on PBS, where excerpts are still viewable (Source: Anon 2019, np link).

We hope that through this film people come to understand their own relation with Tijuana, with the maquiladora industry, with Carmen, Lourdes and other maquiladora workers. In other words: the way in which we consume affects the lives of others, and not in a very positive way. We hope that people will understand that NAFTA-style treaties do not benefit the many but the few, and that one way to combat them is to support causes like those of the Chilpancingo Collective, CITTAC and the NGOs that organize to confront, to question and to resist the dark side of globalization (Source: Funari & de la Torre 2006, p.3 link).

While films rarely effect measurable, concrete changes in the world, they are powerful tools: they open minds and create dialogue, necessary precursors to and ingredients of action. One of our great pleasures has been to watch this film open up new realms of thought, emotion and experience for audiences, just as the process of making the film opened our own minds and hearts. We hope you will be inspired to action, so that the work of women like Carmen and Lourdes can lead to ever greater changes for the better, both in Tijuana and around the world (Source: Funari & de la Torre 2006, p.3 link).

[This film] had tangible results in the real world … Funari explained. For example, one of their partners, SweatFree Communities, had been campaigning to get local governments and college and university administrators to commit to purchasing sweat free goods. 'Liana Foxvog, at the time their National Organizer, told me that after one of their Maquilápolis screenings, a local politician came up to her and said that seeing the film had finally shown him exactly why he needed to support their initiative. That’s an anecdote that I hear as a filmmaker and I feel like I did my job.' 'What a film can do is often no more than create or promote dialogue,' said Funari (Source: Anon 2019, np link).

Following [a 2007 screening of] the film [at the Environmental Film Festival in Washington, DC], Margrete Strand Rangnes, senior representative for the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program, discussed how trade institutions and agreements - such as the World Trade Organization and NAFTA - have enabled environmental and labor injustices. Andrew Selee, director of the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, acknowledged some of the negative impacts of NAFTA, but argued that development in Mexico (specifically Tijuana) has increased in the past 15 years, partially as a result of the agreement (Source: Williams & Clarke nd, np link).

Funari: Right now, we’re fundraising for a one- or two-year outreach campaign for Maquilapolis. We’re going to be taking the film all along the U.S.-Mexico border and showing it to workers and communities on both sides of the border. Hopefully, some of the promotoras will be travelling with us to do that. We also have a number of different outreach organizations that we’re partnering with: they’re organizations that work with environmental justice, labor rights, and women’s rights, which are all issues that the film deals with. We’re also developing programs for each person so they’ll be able to use the film to further the work that they’re already doing. We’re trying to use the film to bring about some dialogue and some change (Source: Anon 2006b, np link).

[The filmmakers] say they hope the film pokes the viewer's conscience and perhaps sparks some sort of action … ‘We don't want people to walk away feeling frustrated,’ Funari said … Instead, she gives the viewers an option to get active (Source: Carcamo 2013, np link).

As filmmakers [Funari and De La Torre] wanted to make sure their audience used the film properly. They put resources toward making a binational and bilingual database of all the organizations leading the charge around issues addressed in the film. As Funari pointed out, information today is easily accessible with a quick internet search, but this was not true even a decade ago, especially for communities where computers and internet access were not common. So, a printed database became a valuable asset to give to their audience after seeing the film. They also created a bilingual discussion guide to help activists and community leaders use the film to help them organize. 'When people see a film like Maquilàpolis,' Funari explained, they ask, 'What can I do? What should I do?' The team used these resources as a way to give the viewers an immediate action they could take: 'Get involved with any one of these organizations and you will be making a positive change in the world' (Source: Anon 2019, np link).

The filmmakers created a one-year outreach campaign, which links viewers with nonprofit organizations on both sides of the border. People can donate time or money to nine different groups, from Mexican women's rights movements to binational environmental health organizations (Source: Carcamo 2013, np link).

This film can be used … [in] undergraduate courses dealing with globalization, world inequality, and labor studies … as well … as an effective tool in community organizing (Source: Tambureno 2013, p.397).

Within the American audience, because of the way the film is structured, I think it can be educational not only for audiences in universities or colleges, but also in community centers, libraries and cultural centers. The film deals with the costs of hyper-consumption and allows the viewers to understand where their goods are coming from, making a connection between themselves, their TV and the factory work in Mexico (Source: De La Torre in Anon 2006b, np link).

In terms of audience on the [Mexico] side of the border, we had in mind factory workers, communities of people that are on the production side. I hope seeing the film can make them understand what their role was, how important it is for them to understand what they're doing and how they do participate in the world economy, and that they do have rights not only as workers but as humans. I hope the film makes them understand that they have rights to a decent house, a decent job and a decent living (Source: De La Torre in Anon 2006b, np link).

My reaction to the film, as always, was to get active and join some organization to fight these industries carelessness over the environment and fight for benefits and good pay for the workers (Source: Feminist Musing 2012, np link).

The audiences for both the screening and subsequent discussion [at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, USA] included students, faculty, and members of the local … community. ‘I really want to know more. [Globalization in Tijuana] is clearly a complicated issue, but I’m glad I got to learn about it through the eyes of the maquiladoras,’ Katie Sipiora, 14 said (Source: Hazel 2011, np link).

We watched Maquilapolis in my 11th-grade global studies class at Franklin High School in Portland, Ore., as part of a larger unit on Mexico and the history and current issues impacting the border, based on the Rethinking Schools book The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration. Although a subtitled film - ‘You mean we have to read while we watch?’ - students were totally engrossed. Maquilapolis, in its video diary style, allowed students to travel to Tijuana with Lourdes and Carmen. Many of my students have not traveled any farther south than our state capital, Salem, just an hour down I-5 from Portland, because their own families struggle to make ends meet; but this film allowed them an intimate view of the women’s lives: their neighborhoods, their factories, their homes, watching their children play. Lourdes and Carmen brought the border - and issues of toxic contamination, workers’ rights, and resistance - alive for my students. It was 'real' in a way that brought an abstract concept like 'Free Trade,' to ground level. They could see and hear the sizzle of the electric wires where residents had tapped into the main lines, laughed in recognition at the scrappy neighborhood dogs, groaned with want as plates of food passed across the screen. To engage students further, we completed a 'found poem' using the film’s powerful language. A found poem is a way for students to work creatively with a film’s content - for them to deal with emotions, characters, or critical issues in a film or reading that doesn’t feel like 'note-taking.' Text - in this case subtitles - are key to this activity. As students watch the film, they select words or phrases that stand out, creating a list of these snippets of text to come back to after the film is over. My 'Get out a piece of paper,' was met with the standard, 'Can’t we just watch a film in this class?' But as I explained the assignment, students’ creative impulses kicked in. 'As you watch the film, you are going to create a list. This list can be words or phrases, anything that catches your ear, seems rich, powerful, full of potential. This list can be as messy or cryptic as it needs to be so you have material to work with afterwards when we’re going to use it to make a found poem.' For homework, students took those lists and manipulated them to create a poem that expressed one of the following choices: how they felt about what they saw, how a character in the film may feel about her life and the impact of the maquliadoras, or a response to any issue raised by the film. 'Think of the tools you have in poetry,' I said to the students as they were packing up their bags at the end of class, 'use spacing, repetition; you can manipulate your list anyway you need to in order to make your poem.' One of the results of the maquiladora system is its blatant disregard for the lives of workers and the land where they and their families live. Students were shocked to see a river running full of the effluence of industrial production - at flood stage, even though it had just started raining. Taking advantage of Mexico’s less rigorous environmental standards and lax enforcement, multinational companies were spilling waste-water into the Río Alamar, a river that cuts through Lourdes Lujan’s neighborhood of Chilpancingo. 'DON’T TOUCH IT!' Korissa yelled to the child on the screen who ventured too close to the toxic brew (Source: Treick O’Neill nd, np link).

Tatyana wrote from Lourdes’ perspective in her poem.
When I was a kid, it was clean.
The air was fresh and crops grew healthy.
Now, it’s black, red, foamy.
Toxins evaporate and enter my lungs.
A very sad reality. For what purpose? …
-Tatyana Voronina, 11th grade, Franklin High School.
… In Mexico, companies are required to pay severance wages before leaving; by this time, Carmen knew her rights and along with some co-workers, filed a labor claim against Sanyo. Jerram wrote from Carmen’s story.
… I work for Sanyo, AKA the one that doesn’t pay my severance
AKA the reason I have these spots
AKA the one that changes the color of the water
AKA maquiladora.
- Jerram Harte, 11th grade, Franklin High School
(Source: Treick O’Neill nd, np link).

For many of my students, their first response to the situations presented on the screen was, 'Leave!' After seeing the mistreatment of workers and the environmental damage the maquilas create, students definitely felt more empathy for those individuals making the choice to cross the Mexico-U.S. border without documents. But Lourdes and Carmen do not intend to leave; nor do they intend to be the 'cheap and docile' workers the maquiladoras so desire. Lourdes and Carmen are promotoras; as the narration of the film explains: 'through knowledge, [we] see things differently, clear new paths, make changes in our daily lives, our communities, in our workplaces, and in ourselves.' Their resistance became a theme in the class writings, with the language they used to describe their struggle finding its way into virtually every poem (Source: Treick O’Neill nd, np link).

[The] most remarkable achievement in the film is a community achievement: in forming a coalition of women literally sick of pollution caused by the factories for which they work or have worked, they accomplish quite a lot. They piss people off. They get the US EPA to fork over many thousands of dollars (Source: Barba de chiva 2007, np link).

In August 2007, the Mexican government announced that funding for the final cleanup of the Metales y Derivados site would be provided.  More than $750,000 has already been spent  (Source: Kray 2008, np link).

The cleanup was completed in 2008, ahead of schedule, and included independent community monitoring. Metales y Derivadosis the poster child for the failure of NAFTA to live up to its negotiators’ promise to protect public health and the environment. However, Metales y Derivadosis also a symbol of environmental justice achieved (Source: Anon ndf, np link).

Thanks to her persistence in demanding severance pay, Carmen’s house now has concrete floors. And thanks to her new knowledge of labor rights, she has since taken another factory to the labor board for a violation similar to Sanyo’s; she hopes one day to go to school and become a labor lawyer (Source: Anon ndc, np link).

The women of El Colectivo Chilpancingo still work daily to defend the land and water that is constantly threatened by international, corporate interests. They worked tirelessly to block a recent proposal to re-channel the Río Alamar to construct a highway through Chilpancingo, a project that would have increased the flow of truck traffic through the town and caused a substantial increase in air pollution. In June 2015, their efforts again proved successful. The government of Baja California announced that it will not cement three kilometers of the river and will instead channel the river with stones to filter the water and maintain the existing aquifers that feed into a wooded area nearby, according to a report from the Vida Latina, a Spanish-language daily newspaper circulated in San Diego and Tijuana. The women of the San Diego Environmental Health Coalition still work with the women of el Colectivo Chilpancingo to maintain a strong community presence and teach them other vital skills, such as 'empowerment, leadership, and resource management training.' Even in 2016, the women are still planning on building urban forests and clean soccer fields for their children to play in and explore, constantly concerned with mitigating the constant conflict between their own and their children’s health and the capitalist interests of multinational corporations (Source: D’Souza 2016, np link).

Maquilápolis and documentary films like it represent a major shift in how people have come to view documentary as an art form in the past fifteen years. '2006 isn’t that long ago,' Funari points out, 'to think that what you can do now - given the technology that we have, and the awareness that people have in the documentary film world - it’s quantum leaps ahead of where we were in 2006' (Source: Anon 2019, np link).

References / Further Reading

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Alien9542 (2008) Comment on Anon (2008) The California border from Alta to Baja, Documentary: Maquilapolis. symbsys16.edublogs.org, 6 May (http://symbsys16.edublogs.org/2008/04/18/documentary-maquilapolis last accessed 1 November 2011)

AndresR (2011) Comment on POV (nd) Maquilapolis: City of Factories, Film update. pbs.org, 20 February (http://www.pbs.org/pov/maquilapolis/film_update.php last accessed 1 November 2011)

Anon (2006a) Maquilapolis: City of Factories. pbs.org, 28 September (http://www.pbs.org/pov/maquilapolis/film_description.php last accessed 31 October 2011)

Anon (2006b) Maquilapolis: City of Factories. Interview. pbs.org, 28 September (http://www.pbs.org/pov/maquilapolis/interview.php last accessed 1 November 2011)

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Anon (2019) How Maquilápolis led the way as documentaries became Important tools for justice and change. Creative Capital, 2 October (https://creative-capital.org/2019/10/02/how-maquilapolis-led-the-way-as-documentaries-become-important-tools-for-justice-and-change/ last accessed 6 July 2020)

Anon (nda) MAQUILAPOLIS [city of factories]. www.maquilapolis.com (http://www.maquilapolis.com/project_eng.htm last accessed 1 November 2011)

Anon (ndb) Maquilapolis: City of factories. International Museum of Women: Women, Power and Politics Online Exhibition. imow.org (http://www.imow.org/wpp/stories/viewStory?storyid=116 last accessed 1 November 2011)

Anon (ndc) Maquilapolis (City of Factories), about the Film. California Newsreel (http://newsreel.org/video/MAQUILAPOLIS last accessed 1 November 2011)

Anon (ndd) Maquilapolis - City of Factories. Interview of Vicky Funari and Sergio De La Torre. www.telegraph21.com (http://www.telegraph21.com/video/maquilapolis-city-of-factories last accessed 1 November 2011)

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Compiled by Rosie Buller, Melanie Bonner, Rebecca Lyons, Georgie Little and Tilman Schulzklinger and Jennifer Hart, edited by Eeva Kemppainen, Jennifer Hart and Ian Cook (last updated July 2020). Page created for followthethings.com as part of the ‘Geographies of Material Culture’ module, University of Exeter. Trailer embedded with permission of California Newsreel. Product photo by Mike Gonzalez used under Creative Commons license from Wikimedia here.