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Valley of Tears
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by Scott Weinberg

"How racism nearly destroyed an entire town."
4 stars

Think the Deep South is tough on minorities? You don't know the half of it. It's no surprise that Mexican-Americans have had more than their fair share of difficulties trying to make lives for their families in the Deep South. For every one Hispanic family who finds themselves acclimated comfortably, there are countless others who struggle daily with horrific racial inequality, subtle (and often not-so-subtle) xenophobia, and sometimes just plain old hatred.

Hart Perry's Valley of Tears revisits a fascinating (if unfairly forgotten) chapter of Texas history - and while it's not always a pretty tale, Perry's exposť is pretty damn compelling for 80-odd say nothing of educational.

Focusing mainly on the infamous onion-workers strike of 1972, Valley of Tears - through use of extensive archive video and current interviews with the townsfolk and farmworkers who were there - tells its distressingly factual history in surprisingly touching fashion.

Weary of the unacceptable working conditions (though mainly perturbed at the stunningly paltry wages being offered: 25 cents for one full bushel of picked onions!), the Mexican workers eventually decide to strike, an occurrence that predicates some severe racial tensions in the already divided community of Raymondville, Texas. The farmworkers were simply looking for a wage high enough to support their families, yet when the work stoppage began, the ranchers' first reaction was to hire scabs - strike-breakers who would gladly accept the miniscule wages. (Desperation and hunger will do terrible things to human beings, while the horrifically stingy ranchers took full advantage of this disadvantage.)

Though the bulk of Perry's film focuses on the actual 1979 work stoppage, his cameras also shed some illuminating attention on various other inequalities that apparently ran rampant through Raymondville from 1979 to present day: Hispanic children repeatedly being expelled from schools, parents financially unable to raise their families, hopeful Latino politicians find themselves railroaded and unable to improve even the most basic living conditions, etc., etc.

Suffice to say that Raymondville has not been particularly kind to its indiginous minorities, yet Hart's film successfully ends on a few hopeful notes - proof positive that the downtrodden can eventually raise their lot in life, given they have 30-odd years to fight the power.

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originally posted: 03/11/03 05:39:20
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2003 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/27/07 Elma Martinez the film was an eye opener , I grew up in Raymondville my father ran one of the major farm 5 stars
2/20/04 Randy Wright Beautiful film of political importance. 4 stars
8/07/03 Neomi Valdez It's a really good movie. I didn't know that all of this had happened in my home town. 4 stars
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Directed by
  Hart Perry

Written by
  Juan Gonzales


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