My name is Carmen. I work at the Panasonic factory, assembling television components. I'm from Chiapas, and I was 14 years old when I arrived in Tijuana. I'd gone with a friend to visit Los Angeles, and the border patrol detained me and deported me to Tijuana, to a juvenile detention center. I couldn't contact my family...

Carmen is now 29 years old and a 12-year veteran of maquiladora work. Her struggles take place around four key issues: she organizes to bring electricity into her neighborhood; she pressures the government health system to test her for lead poisoning from on-the-job exposure; she undertakes a labor claim against a Sanyo factory which laid her off, along with many other workers, without the legally required compensation; and she works to provide a healthy, happy childhood for her three children, despite her poverty.

Carmen Delfina

Carmen sees one key to a better future - educating herself and working together with others to change their living and working conditions:

I am learning my rights as a woman and a worker, so that I can teach my children to confront whatever problems they encounter. In the future, I'd like to study Law, so that I can help others and myself and my children..

Carmen wins a financial settlement against Sanyo, but gets labeled as a troublemaker and laid off from her new job at the Panasonic factory. She faces the possibility that she may be blacklisted from future factory work because of her organizing efforts, left with three children to raise, severe health problems and no stable source of income.

The foreign factories come and get rich in our country, off our labor, and then they leave. Although we need the work, the worker always comes to hate the factories.

Together, Carmen and her colleagues weave a multilayered image of today's Tijuana and speak of hope for our capacity to carve out lives of change and agency in this new and complicated century.

While MAQUILAPOLIS focuses on the main character of Carmen, her colleagues chime in with their stories too, stories of civil rights violations, labor organizing, domestic abuse, environmental contamination and infection, and the search for personal and political empowerment. Throughout the documentary, a group of promotoras performs a "chorus" as background to the foreground stories, providing a sense of context, of community and of the complexity of conditions these women face.

Delfina made the mistake of carrying a pamphlet on workers' rights in her purse. It was discovered when her bag was searched on her way into work at the Mattel factory one day. She was detained by her factory's manager, accused of treason, threatened with arrest and held captive for twelve hours. Now she struggles to have this violation of her civil rights recognized by the labor and judicial bureaucracies.

After Delfina's open defense of her civil rights, she became a leader among the women in her factory, who turned to her for hope that they can one day organize their own union. Delfina herself looks for hope on both sides of the border: she goes back and forth between a factory job in Tijuana that pays $7.00 a day and a Jack-in-the-Box job on the U.S. side of the border that pays $7.00 an hour. Her children live in Tijuana, her boyfriend in the U.S., and like so many other residents of this region, she straddles the border in an attempt to build a better life for her family.

fotos: daniel gorrell