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.
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
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.''