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Immigrant voices: ‘Building the American Dream’ details abuse of construction workers in Texas

Christian, a construction worker, activist and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient in Texas. (Courtesy of Moyo Oyelola)

Chelsea Hernandez makes films to inspire change.

Oftentimes, the subject matter changes Hernandez.

Case in point, her documentary, “Building the American Dream,” gave the filmmaker new perspective on the abuse of immigrant workers in the construction industry in Texas.

“Growing up in Texas, I never knew this was happening,” she says. “The purpose of this film was to open some eyes.”

The film will air at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15, on New Mexico PBS, Channel 5.1. It repeats on Sept. 17 and 19. It is part of the “Voces” series.

The documentary takes viewers to Texas, the site of a massive construction boom heralded as the Texas Miracle.

But it has a dirty secret – the abuse of immigrant workers.

The film captures the rise of a workers’ movement, fighting widespread construction industry injustices – from nonpayment of wages to deadly work conditions.

The Granillo family lost their son, brother and father, Roendy Granillo, to heat illness on the job. (Courtesy of Moyo Oyelola)

One of the stories in the film is that of the Granillo family, whose son died of heat-related causes on a construction site.

The Granillo family campaigns for a much-needed safety law that would allow workers 10-minute breaks for every four hours of labor.

Then there’s Claudia and Alex, a Salvadoran couple, skilled electricians owed thousands in back pay who fight for their children’s future.

And Christian, a bereaved son, hopes to protect others from his family’s preventable tragedy.

Hernandez says that through their stories of courage, resilience and community, the film reveals eye-opening truths about the hardworking immigrants who build our American dream.

“I first met Christian, and he told me his story of losing his dad in a roofing accident,” Hernandez says. “As I kept meeting people and going to various meetings, there were stories that just gutted you. It was difficult to choose the handful of stories that we followed.”

Hernandez says she worked with the Workers Defense Project.

Claudia and Alex are electricians working in Texas who emigrated from El Salvador. (Courtesy of Moyo Oyelola)

“A lot of the times, it was a matter of being in the moment,” she says. “There’s one scene with Claudia and Alex that we were able to capture. It was at an intense moment where Claudia had to go check in with ICE. When she did that, she never knew if she was coming back. That’s an example of us just rolling camera.”

“Building the American Dream” is a production of Panda Bear Films in association with Latino Public Broadcasting.

“We’re proud to present this timely documentary about Latino essential workers who are advocating for more equitable working conditions,” says Sandie Viquez Pedlow, executive director of LPB and executive producer of VOCES. “As we hear about the Latino workers whose jobs are considered essential and are bearing a disproportionate burden during this pandemic, this film is a stark reminder of all the Latinos who work in dangerous conditions to keep our nation running during good times and bad.”

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