Outstanding new documentaries from PBS mark National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15). Here are two that show the trials and triumphs of those who have come to this country in search of a better life and encounter a system that seems designed to dash their dreams.
In Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci’s deft and dramatically engrossing “Five Years North,” Luis, who is 16 but looks younger, has just arrived in New York from his indigenous village in Guatemala. The skyscrapers and the lights of Times Square dazzle and delight him. “I want everything that is here!” he exclaims. But wonder soon gives way to the reality of making a living and the stress of a pending court date determining whether he can stay in this country.
Luis faces an insidious dilemma. He can remain in the United States as a minor but only if he attends school and doesn’t work. Though he enjoys and appreciates getting an education, he has no choice but to work — not only to survive in the city but also to send money to his desperately struggling family. The stress of this situation and his overriding fear of being picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement affects his health. It only gets worse as his court date approaches and bad news arrives from home.
Meanwhile, Judy, a Cuban-American ICE officer patrolling Luis’s neighborhood, performs her duties of apprehending the undocumented, despite the disapproval of her immigrant parents and her qualms about new regulations. For years ICE had prioritized deporting those with criminal records. But the Trump administration ended that policy and insists that all cases be treated equally. Judy regards the change as unfair and impractical. She scoffs at a Trump tweet promising the deportation of 2 million undocumented immigrants. Nonetheless, she puts aside her personal feelings and does her duty.
A balanced and affecting look at two sides of one of the intransigent problems that define our time, “Five Years North” premieres Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. on WORLD Channel and worldchannel.org as part of the documentary series “America ReFramed.”
Emily Cohen Ibañez’s lyrical and starkly realistic “Fruits of Labor” opens with a scene that gives new meaning to the Beatles song “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
Teenage Ashley Solis Pavón picks the fruit in a field of strawberries in central California. It stretches to the horizon, and the toil is Sisyphean. Later she works the night shift at a processing plant, sorting the frozen berries rolling out on an endless conveyor belt.
Pavón lives with her mother and three younger siblings in a house they share with 12 other families. Somehow she hopes to muster the time and energy to get through senior year in high school, graduate, and go to college. She would be fulfilling not only her dream but that of her undocumented mother, Beatriz, who hopes that her daughter will have a better life than hers and enjoy the benefits and opportunities denied her. That would make her lifetime of labor and sacrifices worthwhile.
Beatriz herself has been working seven days a week as a domestic, but ICE has raided the neighborhood recently. She has to lay low, leaving her daughter as the sole breadwinner. Pavón’s younger brother, whom her mother spoils, does nothing to help. He goofs around with his friends and girlfriend and is always borrowing money. Pavón, meanwhile, might not even be able to scrounge up enough to pay for a prom gown. Like Luis in “Five Years North,” she faces responsibilities and problems beyond her years. “I wish I could just worry about things other girls worry about at my age,” she says.
But neither Ashley nor her mother is defeated. Cohen Ibañez includes images of butterflies, ripening fruit, and blossoming flowers, coupled with Pavón’s poetic reflections (Pavón is credited as co-writer of the film), to illustrate her aspirations. They aren’t idle fancies, for mother and daughter not only persevere but take part in projects to help their community prosper.
“Fruits of Labor,” a co-presentation of “POV” and Latino Public Broadcasting’s “VOCES,” premieres Oct. 4 at 10 p.m. on PBS, pbs.org, and the PBS Video app. It will be available for streaming for 60 days on Amazon Fire TV Android, Apple TV Chromecast iOS, Roku streaming devices, Samsung Smart TV, and VIZIO.
Peter Keough can be reached at email@example.com.