Elevate Difference

Maquilapolis: City of Factories

Who made that pen you’re using? Who put your television together? Who sewed your pants? And what does any of this have to do with women in Mexico? Well, thanks to the initiation of NAFTA in 1994, big US corporations can make maximum profit off of the cheap labor of women in other countries. In the brand new documentary Maquilapolis, two female maquiladora workers document their lives and struggles as factory workers in Tijuana, and show why and how women are exploited for their cheap labor in the border towns of Mexico.

Following the daily routines of Carmen and Lourdes, the film depicts every feature of their lives. From having to pick their steps carefully as they walk through their shanty towns - because life-threatening, shoddy electricity zaps and sizzles near polluted water, to sending a son to buy a five gallon jug of water that costs the same price that these women are paid at the maquiladoras for two hours of work - the film doesn’t leave out one aspect of these women’s personal lives. The film, however, never asks for the viewer’s pity. Just as you think it’s going to turn into a commiseration about the harsh life realities of the marginalized Other, Maquilapolis weaves in another narrative—that of these women’s political life.

Carmen and Lourdes are both aware of how their bosses treat them. Viewed as ignorant women who do not understand what human rights are, the patrons of the maquiladoras overwork the women, underpay them and provide unsafe working conditions for the young female workers. Carmen’s political battle with her former bosses is over denied severance pay. When the company decided to move their operations to Indonesia, because of cheaper female labor overseas, all of the women working for the company in Tijuana were fired without being given any severance pay. Carmen understands that “in globalization, woman worker is like a commodity,” but that due to the multiple injustices slapped upon her by the hands of big corporations, she “can’t stay quiet anymore.” With these powerful words Carmen organizes her fellow workers. After a large legal battle the women are finally paid the thousands of dollars that was owed to them.

Lourdes also understands how, through globalization, women are “just objects, objects of labor.” Her battle, however, is one about the aftermath of a factory closing. One corporation that left Tijuana did not take any of the necessary precautions with demolishing their factory, so all of the metal and factory bi-products were left to rot and corrode. This abandoned factory sits on a hill above the maquiladora workers’ neighborhood. All of the chemicals from the corroded building, as well as those from the factories that are still functioning near by, run off into a creek that flows through the workers’ neighborhood. The entire shantytown is polluted with harmful chemicals, and the effects of these pollutants can be seen on the workers’ bodies in the form of the rashes and spots. Lourdes’ battle against the government and corporations to clean up its waste is a long battle that has yet to be fully won. But the incessant Lourdes and the environmental group that she organized have made small victories in this overwhelming war.

Maquilapolis is a film that does not attempt to create any pity. While it does show the horrific living situations that female maquiladora workers have to negotiate along with their physically stressful and low-wage jobs, it is also a film of angst, rebellion and unrelenting political action. Maquilapolis is both a call to action and an eye-opener for anyone who has never considered what, exactly, goes in to making their pens, their television, their clothes and all of the cheap, plastic crap that no one really needs. In a world where globalization is seen by the privileged as a blessing, Maquilapolis exposes how globalization functions in the lives of marginalized women.

Written by: Chelsey Clammer, July 3rd 2007

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