Let’s face it, since 2016; we have been in a period of massive political upheaval. Crazy incidents happen by the day if not the hour. Ordinances and laws that once existed to protect the more vulnerable amongst us have been rescinded. Immigrants are under attack. I don’t know if you recall your elementary school history class, but this country was built by immigrants, and if you want to get technical about it, a lot of these so-called “immigrants” were actually native to North America, which therefore make us Europeans the ones who should be worried, but I digress.
Building The American Dream synthesizes the hardships that immigrants go through to a smaller scale story. The construction workers of Texas, who are largely undocumented or DACA, face all sorts of trouble daily. A lot of the things I’m about to tell you were things I didn’t know before seeing Chelsea Hernandez’ film. If you’re like me, once you watch this film, you will be even more emboldened to do whatever you can to vote out the scourge of soulless corporate-owned politicians in our state and Federal governments.
At the beginning of Building The American Dream, 25-year-old Roendy Granillo died after working while ill at his construction job. He told his foreman that he wasn’t feeling well, but got brushed off. Roendy and the other workers were working in 110-degree Texas heat. When Roendy arrived at the hospital, his temperature was also 110 degrees, and all of his organs failed. Gustavo Granillo, Roendy’s father, says “Si mi hijo tuviera a alguien con ellos que cuidara a sus trabajadores, esto no le habría sucedido.” or “If my son had someone with them who cared for their workers, this wouldn’t have happened to him.”
“…Roendy Granillo died after working while ill at his construction job…working in 110-degree Texas heat.”
Half of the construction workforce in Texas are undocumented workers. The powers-that-be want to keep it that way because undocumented workers are easy to exploit. We next meet Claudia and Alex Gionelli, two immigrants who work together as electricians. The two were contracted to do the electric work for an Aldi supermarket. The two of them started out getting paid the wage that was posted; then they started getting paid half that. Then, they weren’t getting paid at all. The contractor told him he would pay them all they were owed and told them to meet him on a specific date. When they arrived in hopes of receiving the payment for a job they had already completed, the contractor had called the police, accusing the two of stealing tools and supplies. Nothing happened, and the Gianelli’s were owed upwards of $11,000. I don’t know about you, but I would be BEYOND livid if something like this happened to me.
The Texas Workforce Commission is taking steps to help prevent future wage theft and also to get payments for people who were stiffed by their greedy employers. Meanwhile, in lieu of what happened to Roendy, the Workers Defense Project is lobbying the city council of Dallas to enforce a paid rest break for construction workers. Ten minutes for every four hours worked. This is not that big of a deal if you think about it, but in Texas, things are very different than other places. Two lovely city councilmen who I would love to give a piece of my mind said the following words in response to a request for this rule.
Councilman Callahan says “I appreciate all the passion that went behind this, but again it’s just another piece of paper, a poster, another requirement and all for a “feel-good,” mind you. ‘Hey man, we got that done! Check! Let’s come up with a new work rule next year, won’t that be fun?’ And you think you gotta boon here now, Mayor, we could really have a boon if we just streamlined that, but quit telling business “No.” Quit telling them “no.” Let the Federal Government be the arbiter when it comes to rules and regulations.” In other words, pass the buck because we don’t want to scare off the people who donate to our campaigns? Yeah, cool, buddy.
“…opens your eyes even more to exactly how unfair this country is to undocumented immigrants…”
Then Councilman Kleinman has this beautiful addition “This is a group of charlatans coming in here posing for the unions in a right-to-work state. The fact of the matter is limiting people’s right to work is bad for workers too. I’m just always very frustrated when the City Council isn’t making decisions based on facts, and I don’t see a reason to bring this forward to the council for consideration.”
We also meet Cristian, a young man who has DACA, his father died in a construction accident, and because of that, he has a job checking the safety of construction worksites. We see him stopping by a site and asking everyone how they are. He mentions that a lot of workers are afraid to voice their complaints in fear of being fired or worse.
We follow these three families as they battle against an unfair system. We see Cristian’s fear when Jeff “Keebler Elf” Sessions announces that DACA will be rescinded. We see Claudia get pulled over by the police and get put into a supervisory program with ICE where she could be deported at any given time, and we see Roendy’s family protest and lobby to get the rest break ordinance passed.
This film opens your eyes even more to exactly how unfair this country is to undocumented immigrants, particularly those of Latinx origins. Chelsea Hernandez tugs at our heartstrings and puts fuel to a fire of righteous anger. For me, it also made me even more ready to vote in 2020. Although my vote won’t affect the overall corrupt nature of the Republican party, maybe it’ll do something. All I know is I don’t want to live in a country where humans are treated as disposable, which is what we see happening in Building The American Dream. Hopefully, we can all do what we can to change things before they get worse.
Building The American Dream (2019) Directed and Produced by Chelsea Hernandez. Written by Joanna Rabiger.
7 out of 10 stars