The opening images of “Harvest of Empire,” a film about the roots of Latino immigration, paint a complex picture of the crisis we face today.

In one image a cop is putting handcuffs on a Latino college graduate dressed in a cap and gown. In another a parade of Latinos wave flags and signs, one reading “We are Americans. We want to be part of the dream.”

Finally, a conservative TV news commentator angrily tells immigrants they don’t belong. “You have no rights,” he says.

Immigration is not a simple issue, but at this time of heated and divisive debate a look in the rear-view mirror can lend some understanding and perspective.

The documentary “Harvest of Empire: The Untold Story of Latinos in America” gives a history lesson and shows a connection between US intervention and the ever-increasing numbers of Latinos coming here.

By the year 2050 it’s projected Latinos will make up 1/3 of the US population.

The focus of this month’s Salem Progressive Film Series, the film gives an unflinching look at the role the US plays in destabilizing Latin American countries to protect economic and military interests, actions which leads to immigration.

The film is based on a book by journalist and Democracy Now! co-host Jaun Gonzalez .

One of three guest speakers to talk after the film, Dr. Joseph Orosco, associate professor of philosophy and director of Oregon State University Peace Studies Program, said the movie gives a comprehensive look at the issue.

Gonzalez joins local immigrant community advocates Levi Herrera-Lopez, Mano a Mano Family center executive director and Joel Iboa, Causa coalition coordinator.

Both Herrera –Lopez and Iboa are expected to talk about how the immigration crisis is playing out locally, said film series board member Cindy Kimball.

Orosco teaches both the book and the movie and will offer a broader view.

“For the past 30 years our country has been debating the issue of immigration without any firm resolutions; but the impression in the minds of many Americans is that we are besieged by waves and waves of immigrants coming across our borders, especially from Latin America,” he said.

“Some of these images are fact and many other are fiction.  Gonzalez gives important historical context that allows us to understand the push and pull reasons behind immigration flows:  the reasons that immigrants might be pushed out of their countries and the conditions in the United States that might encourage them to be pulled here,” Orosco said.

In Guatemala, the film shows, the military, with CIA-backing, overthrew a fledging democratic government to protect the United Fruit Company in the mid-1950s.

A brutal 36-year civil war that followed resulted in widespread violence, disappearances and killing, primarily of the native Mayan population and rural poor. Many fled for their lives to the United States.

Similar scenes have played out in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Nicaragua with the US backing governments and military operations willing to protect its economic interests.

In El Salvador the brutal tactics of La Guardia stunned the world with the 1980 assassination of Bishop Oscar Romero. In his last public speech, Romero had called for an end to the killings.

Days later at his funeral, the military opened fire on crowds assembled. Like in Guatemala, many fled to the United States.

“People don’t want to leave their homelands” but often have no choice, said Enrique Morones of the Border Angels a group that leaves out water for Mexicans crossing the board.

Border Angels also buries the dead along the border, an area Morones calls the largest graveyard in the country.

Many cross over from Mexico on their own accord, but the film highlights how the US has long brought in Mexican workers to keep the American economy strong. Though recruited, they are turned into scapegoats during lean economic time, Gonzalez said.

Mexican immigration also extends deep into the earliest days of this country. Large tracts of the west were once part of Mexico long before there were any Anglo settlers, Orosco said.

His presentation after the film will focus on how immigration law has been “designed to institutionalize a white supremacist vision of North America.”

The potential loss of that majority white demographic over the next few decades, he said, is at the center of much of the political and social strife today.

For more details on the Salem Progressive Film Series go to


“Harvest of Empire: The Untold Story of Latinos in America”
Directed by Peter Getzels & Eduardo López
90 minutes
7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19
Grand Theatre
191 High St. NE, Salem
Salem Progressive Film Series