Ulysses: New Hope in the Heartland (AlieNation)
México, 2014 | Armando Minjarez Monarrez
In only seven and a half minutes, Ulysses: New Hope in the Heartland navigates a complex layering of human history by documenting the ever-changing lives of people who live in the rural village of Ulysses, Kansas in the midwestern United States. This area's renaissance from “dust bowl” to “salad bowl” is a story of transborder migration that U.S. media tends to ignore.
This project charts the mingling of lives of people who have converged in a particular part of the country. Most people in the United States are familiar with Mexican workers in the agricultural sector. They may not be familiar, however, with the number of Mexicans who work in the oil and gas industry. These workers are rendered invisible, as are their families and the cultural values that they bring with them.
The film tells a story that is narrated entirely by women, some who are Mexican or Mexican American and others who identify as “Anglo” (non-Mexicans and non-Mexican Americans). They are mothers, daughters, teachers, and entrepreneurs. This is a story of change, since for most of the last century, Mexican women and their children did not accompany their husbands when they migrated to the United States for work.
The United States aggressively recruited Mexican men to work in the agricultural sector of the U.S. economy during the Bracero Program (1942–1964). They were given priority to work as so-called stoop labor after the United States started to relocate Japanese and Japanese Americans into internment camps as potential enemies of state. The "braceros" lived in camps, largely segregated from the outside world. Today, many Mexicans come with their families, live among the general population, and stay for generations.
The film also tells a story about human manipulation of the land that included drilling for oil, water, and gas. Ulysses’ story is about the ways in which capitalism affects the lives of different groups of people and the land that they share. Having lived in Ulysses for several decades, Mexican residents can now find products from home in local stores and in superstores like Walmart, a corporate giant in greenwashing via its vast selection of organic produce and other food items.
The U.S. heartland might ostensibly seem “American,” but it has been Mexicanized—or perhaps re-Mexicanized since much of the land was part of México until the United States annexed it in 1846. Ulysses now boasts a demographic of 50% Latina/o. The culture that Mexicans bring with them to Ulysses is mestizo, that is, part Spanish and part indigenous. Ulyyses is governed by adaptability, something that provides a viable model for other depopulated villages throughout the United States.
Mothers discuss how local schools now have translators so that teachers, who might not speak Spanish, and parents, who might not speak English, can communicate. As longtime residents of Ulysses explain, the town may not have been eager to receive its new Mexican residents in the early years, but it now accepts them. Old people might have more difficulty in this regard, but typically, children are more open minded. Some of the Mexican residents have been in Ulysses long enough that they have great-grandchildren in the local schools. The community has adapted to its newer population by embracing integration; the Mexican residents have not only repopulated the village, but have also brought a new era of prosperity by opening businesses and hosting cultural events. By sharing this story, the video shows how people can live together rather than in alienation.
Ulysses: New Hope in the Heartland is part of Turning Points: Stories of Change, a series of short films that explore pivotal moments in four Kansas communities, made possible by the Kansas Humanities Council.