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Mexicans' American Dream Is to Help Home Town

By REUTERS

Filed at 11:19 a.m. ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mexican immigrants in upstate New York have their own slant on the American Dream, pooling their wages to build a baseball stadium, equip a town band and drill a well in their desert home community over 3,000 miles away.

The story of Grupo Union, a collective formed by immigrants from the southern Mexico town of Boqueron now living in the faded Hudson River town of Newburgh, is told in ``The Sixth Section,'' a documentary airing on Tuesday on PBS.

Filmmaker Alex Rivera's half-hour show looks at the immigrants' life in Newburgh, their jobs and their men's group meetings in a makeshift tent/shed set up in a member's backyard. It also shows their earnings put to use in Boqueron.

``With human resilience and indomitable spirit they flip the debate about immigration,'' Rivera told Reuters, adding that immigrants are often seen as underpaid victims or interlopers who steal jobs from native-born Americans.

``There is a third view, that immigrants are savvy, intelligent, international actors in a global economy trying to be heard,'' he said.

The men are employed in unskilled or semi-skilled jobs typically held by immigrants, such as taxi drivers, kitchen helpers and landscapers.

Boqueron, a town of 5,000 made up of five sections, was devastated by a drought in 1982 that dried up corn and bean crops. Desperate for work, some local men snuck into the United States. One crossed the border among six Mexicans crammed into the trunk of a car. He and half a dozen boyhood friends from Boqueron settled in Newburgh some 10 years ago.

``I see Newburgh as the sixth section,'' one member of Grupo Union said about his faraway home town.

In the documentary, first names are given only to protect the immigrants' identity because, despite the years and steady employment, they still reside in the United States illegally.

The Newburgh contingent would gather to reminisce and share news from home. The illegal immigrants felt marooned, afraid that a trip back to Mexico would leave them unable to return to their U.S. jobs given the tightening of the border since Sept. 11, 2001.

Six years ago they began to organize the growing Mexican community to help folks back home, ``to be part of history,'' said group member Juan.

Chipping in $5, $10, $20 a week, holding raffles and other fund-raisers, they collected $50,000 to build the stadium, a source of pride for them, for they played baseball together back home as younger men. Indeed, a mural placed by the townsfolk at the entrance to the stadium salutes the group.

``The stadium was like a symbol of Grupo Union,'' said Mecho, president of the group. ``Since we were able to build the stadium, we feel like we can do anything.''

They have funded 14 projects in Boqueron, building a church, buying instruments for the town band and providing an ambulance for the local medical clinic.

The latest Boqueron project for the Newburgh contingent, that now numbers about 300, is the drilling of a major well to bring water to the desert community. They have raised $16,000 for the project, which they reckon could cost $100,000 -- equal to the sum they have already sent Boqueron over the last six years.

Grupo Union is not unique. Rivera says there are more than a thousand such groups in the United States that send money back to Mexico to improve life in their home towns.

The Inter-American Development Bank estimates that nearly $25 billion was sent from immigrants in the United States to their homelands in Latin America and the Caribbean last year.

Mexico was the largest recipient, receiving $10.5 billion.

The men have mixed feelings about returning home: while one said he likely would stay, most long for Boqueron. But coming to America was an economic move, they acknowledge, and they know it may be a long time before they can return to Mexico.

``We're here not just for our own families,'' said one Boqueron native in Newburgh. ``We can help the whole town.''




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