Creating sympathy for illegal immigrants amongst middle schoolers

My daughter’s Spanish class has spent the last couple of days watching a movie.  I know many people who learned English by watching American television, so I don’t have a problem with using movies as a teaching device.  I do, however, have a big problem with the movie chosen — La Misma la Luna — which is a movie that uses the travails of a charming and pathetic little boy to make the case that our laws against illegal immigrants are cruel:

The film tells the story of Rosario (del Castillo), a mother who emigrated illegally to the United States, and her nine-year-old son, Carlitos (Alonso). Rosario and Carlitos have not seen each other in four years, when Carlitos was only five. Rosario, now living in Los Angeles, California, calls her son, still in Mexico, every Sunday. Carlitos lives in a small Mexican village with his sick grandmother. Carlitos encounters two immigrant transporters, Marta (Ferrera) and David (Garcia). When his grandmother passes away, he crosses the border with them. After getting separated, Carlitos continues the journey, pairing up with another illegal immigrant named Enrique. Although Enrique (Eugenio Derbez) initially refuses to help Carlitos, he soon grows a bond with him. One day, Carlitos is sleeping on a park bench and almost gets caught by the police but Enrique throws food at the police, getting caught instead. Carlitos flees and arrives at the bus stop from which his mother called him. He sees her across the street at the payphone, and they are reunited at last.

This is not just me being a conservative contrarian, with a knee-jerk reaction to anything that depicts illegal immigrants  positively or American immigration policies negatively.  Even the New York Times figured out that this movie is pro-immigration propaganda (although, typically, the Times writer seems most upset about the fact that the propaganda is too obvious to be effective):

“Under the Same Moon,” an “Incredible Journey” for the socially conscience-stricken, arrives in theaters trailing a standing ovation from last year’s Sundance Film Festival and more than a whiff of sanctimony. And even allowing that Sundance audiences are notoriously unreliable arbiters of quality — for every “Spanking the Monkey,” there’s a “Spitfire Grill” and a “Quinceañera” — their wholehearted embrace of this manipulative, saccharin product is dispiriting.


This is screenwriting by numbers. Unlike, say, Ken Loach’s marvelous “Bread and Roses,” “Under the Same Moon” is too busy sanctifying its protagonists and prodding our tear ducts to say anything remotely novel about immigration policies or their helpless victims. The filmmakers know that middlebrow movie audiences prefer their thorny social issues served lite and with a side order of ham, an opportunity to shed happy tears and enjoy a guilt-free drive home to the (let us hope, legal) baby sitter.

“Under the Same Moon” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It has bad white people, hard-working brown people and morally ambivalent people of mixed race.  (Emphasis mine.)

So here we have a movie that is such obvious propaganda that even people who agree with the message are offended by it, and this is the movie our local middle school chooses to show the 11, 12 and 13 year olds who are taking Spanish.

The fact that it’s being taught in a Spanish class is important.  Theoretically, if it was being taught in a Social Studies class, it would be part of a discussion about illegal immigration, national sovereignty, secure borders, social policy, etc.  (I say “theoretically” because, in American schools today, it’s just as likely to be used as a stirring battle cry to man the barricades against the INS agents).  In Spanish class, however, the kids just take it as it comes, all the while identifying with the plucky little boy separated from his mother only by America’s cruel laws.  The only bow to addressing the issue was a question, “What do you think of illegal immigration?” which the kids had to answer in their beginner Spanish.  My daughter, bless her heart, replied, “I think it’s a bad idea.”

The fact is that, whether the issue is illegal immigration, gay rights, or national security, there are always going to be people in a minority situation who do not benefit from the legal status quo and who are, in fact, hurt by it.  I’d be willing to bet that most (although certainly not all) illegal immigrants who come here are decent, hard-working people, who truly want to make a better life for themselves and their families.  Their sad stories, though, don’t change the fact that, collectively, their presence here is damaging to America’s well-being, nor do they change the fact that there is nothing morally wrong or unjust about a country protecting its borders, preserving its national sovereignty, and enforcing its laws.

The Left’s appeal to emotions — especially with kids as the symbol and the target — is what happens when you have a perpetually moving moral touchstone.  I’m reading Paul Johnson’s masterful A History of the Jews right now, and found interesting his discussion about the Jewish belief in a single all-powerful God who articulates huge moral precepts (and a bunch of very specific contractual rules), as opposed to the Pagan gods, who were completely random.  They were not fixed in name, location, principles, or anything.  Morality, such as it was, was always decided by the whim of the moment of the God of the moment.  There were rules, but there was no justice, at least as we understand it.

The same holds true with Leftist political positions, which emanate from feelings, not from fixed principles.  Whoever feels most strongly wins.  Sometimes those strong feelings march with morality, justice, common sense, and societal needs; and sometimes they don’t.  But they’re so seldom grounded in anything more than “I feel your pain.”  (Incidentally, I’m not arguing that beliefs grounded in traditional Judeo-Christian principles can’t and shouldn’t change.  The Jews themselves are a perfect example of moral and doctrinal development over the centuries.  I’m just arguing for fixed points other than “I feel your pain,” at least when we’re contemplating remaking society.)

Emotional angst is an especially good propaganda tool for young people.  Pre-teens and early teens live in a flurry of emotions anyway.  They are reasonable creatures, but that’s not their first response to any situation.  It takes work, patience, information and intelligence to create a fact-based, reasoned argument that will be comprehensible to a very young adult.  On the other hand, pathetic pictures of puppies, big-eyed kids and bad guys are instant winners for the younger set.  I hope that Scott Brown’s victory, which resulted from independent Americans really seeing the Left for the first time, marks a culture shift that has Americans more vigilant about the creeping Leftism, not in D.C., but in every school in America.

(I should add here that I acquit my children’s school of intentionally using this film as propaganda qua propaganda.  For these people, imbued in a Leftist world view, this movie is as American as Superman insofar as it has clearly delineated and, to them, entirely appropriately drawn good guys and bad guys.)

  • suek

    Was there any discussion about a mother who would leave her child with a sick grandmother knowing she was risking being caught as an illegal?  Or where the father of the child was?
    I have very mixed emotions about illegals…
    Some of them are truly Americans at heart who happen to speak Spanish.  Many of them are trash and should be swept out.  I really do think that our immigration laws need to be addressed – that they’re unjust as they stand.  I know of a Cathoic nun who has been trying to obtain her citizenship in the US for 15 years.  She was recently told that her application (at whatever stage she was in – she had had to return to Canada in order for this stage to be reached) had been approved, and she had two weeks to settle her affairs and cross – permanently – into the US.  No problem for a nun – but what if she owned a house or business??  Once she entered the US, she’s not permitted to return to Canada for some period of time.  It’s crazy.
    On the other hand, I also think that we have a right to establish borders and defend them from illegal entry.  On still another hand, (how many hands do we have now??), present immigration policy determines desirability by education – but many of those who want to immigrate are the uneducated who are in large demand for their labor.  In fact, one of the reasons some of them want to come to the US is so that their children can get educated – apparently that’s a problem in Mexico.  So if we want them here for their labor, is it just to refuse them citizenship on the basis of their lack of education?  It’s also true that many come to make dollars that are impossible to earn in Mexico, and send money home, or save and then return to Mexico with lots of money (not so much in the US, but lots in Mexico’s economy) to either retire or buy a home and land, or a business.  One of our customers told us of a Mexican who had worked for their small chain restaurant as a manager for many years, then left, returned to Mexico and opened a restaurant of the same name and general design somewhere in Mexico where Americans typically go.  What really burned him (our customer) was that the guy was using the restaurant chain name!
    So…should we be sending SS across an international border?  Personally, I wouldn’t be sending SS to citizens who are expats, much less legal residents who aren’t citizens…  Should we be allowing workers to send money back to support family?  My understanding is that the amount of money sent is more than our foreign aid to some countries…  Should we be providing health care for those who are illegal?  brutal though it might be, I say no.  You don’t get rid of mice by leaving food out in the kitchen!
    As is clearly evident…I’m conflicted!

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  • Don’t keep us in suspense–did you or are you going to point out to the teacher your view of the nature of the propaganda? It should not pass without comment from one adult to another (and of course you would be exceedingly polite while being exceedingly articulate). Will you also drop a word in to the department head, principal, or the PTA? Might as well stir things up at this teaching moment. No matter what their intentions, they should not be allowed to proceed in a vacuum. You may find you are not the only parent who feels as you do. Others may welcome your speaking up about it. It may cause many to think.
    I know, easy for me to say. But you know, the more I question these things aloud, the easier it gets. It doesn’t have to be nasty–it’s just good to question it aloud. (Like the Che Guevara poster in my son’s social studies classroom….I questioned it and it disappeared.) It puts people on notice that they need to think, and that they can’t expect to propagandize unopposed.

  • Neither my wife nor I attended government schools….neither did either of our children.
    They aren’t perfect (both voted for Obama, for instance) and my son is in love with England and is very close to being a socialist in some respects.
    So, it doesn’t take a government school to wreck a child’s outlook….but it seems to me it’s a better bet when they spend their days in contact with union members who work for the State.

  • binadaat

    Suek:  i live in israel.
    if I ever qualify for my social security, why shouldn’t i have even if I live outside the US?
    i paid into that Ponzi scheme, I think I deserve to have my money back, no matter where I am in the world.
    Anyone remember the film El Norte? that was the 1980’s film about the poor illegals.  It ended with a woman forcing her way over the border crossing to give birth in the USA, so her child will have citizenship.
    my paternal grandmother was born in Mexico and came to the us at 18 yrs old and had a green card for years, then became a US citizen in the 40’s.  She never took a hand out and taught all 13 children (yes! 13, not at typo) to get an education and work!  She did this without spoken English.  She understood English but never mastered even basic everyday English. My dad is an attorney, retired.  We were never give any sense of “entitlement” because we were minorities.  I only realized when I graduated from High school why we lived in that working class neighbourhood.  My dad wasn’t a WASP!  and there were subtle but effective ways of keeping people like him out of the white neighbourhoods during the 50’s and 60’s.  But we managed, and we prospered.  My brother and I are both college grads.
    I’m very sorry for the poverty and suffering of Mexicans and other Latinos, but maybe the countries they live in should do something to develop their societies so people don’t have to emigrate to have a decent standard of living.  Maybe they (the illegals) should stay there and be the ones to do it! since they have so much motivation to get ahead.
    i had some Mexican friends in college (US santa cruz) who complained about the imperialist and economically repressive policies of US in North America but, because they were dual nationals, they and their families studied in  the US and worked there several months out of the year and then went back to Mexico to live until they ran out of money.  I never could understand them. they thought I was crazy when I wondered why they didn’t start businesses in Mexico.  can’t be done they claimed.  Besides, the US owed them.   talk about cognitive dissonance.

  • Lulu11

    Having worked numerous times with parents and children in this situation, the actual outcome is usually like this. Child is left behind with relatives- often raised in an unloving home. Bonding does not take place with mother because she left when the child was too young. Child has fantasy of reunification with Mom and terrible issues of abandonment. Mom has fantasies of reunification with child and terrible guilt issues. Reunification is not the hoped for idyll- child is older, not bonded to parent, angry and bitter (especially if Mom now has a new familyin the US), rebellious, culturally disoriented in a new country, language and school. Child and parent argue. Mother is resentful (“after all I’ve sacrificed…”) and relationship deteriorates. Child is drawn to street culture and asserting  independence.

    One mother I knew hired a coyote to smuggle her two sons that never had lived with her across the border.(Very comfortable talking about this openly in front of Americans, school district personnel and so on- she knew no one would do anything in an area inundated with illegal immigrants).  She felt guilty she left them with relatives. The boys were now grown  and now she had three American younger kids and a new man in her life. Her sons, to her dismay, were thuggish criminals and drawn to gangster life. They refused to go to school. She kicked them out- no longer guilty that they were still in their home country. Sons moved out y to soon cost taxpayer money in our prison sysytem.

    Over the years I have counseled dozens of families like this  to help create some kind of emotional bond and successful parenting skills. It is not quite as rosy as the film in real life.

  • suek

    >>if I ever qualify for my social security, why shouldn’t i have even if I live outside the US?
    i paid into that Ponzi scheme, I think I deserve to have my money back, no matter where I am in the world.>>
    Another discussion for another day, but roughly, my feeling is that the US earned money should stay in the US.  That said, I think there are tremendous problems with SS and we all know that.  We don’t get paid back the money we put in, we get paid back much more than we paid in, with current workers paying benefits for older retired workers.  I sure wouldn’t have a problem with your being paid back the exact amount you had paid in – even with interest!  but the present system allows withdrawal at a higher rate for nearly as long as the input period.  And of course, the rules change all the time, so it’s hard to really have a rational discussion because you’re trying to hit a moving target.
    I do the payroll taxes for our small company.  The FICA (Social Security) withholding today is more than the income taxes withheld from our employees (all are single).

  • @ Suek – I don’t think any actuarial results confirm that baby-boomers are going to get back a lot more from S.S. than they put in…..even if some of us early ones do, very quickly the cost-benefit curve shifts the other direction…..young people starting work in the ’90s are going to be SCREWED by the system.  You even say that FICA is far higher than income taxes right now…..
    Bush tried (at least briefly) to begin a process of rationalizing the system, but the leftists demurred and to save his foreign policy he backed off (kindest interpretation).  We’re headed for an economic brick wall, and no one in Washington wants to even back off the throttle, much less apply the brakes.

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