Eduardo Lopez, co-director of the documentary adaptation of the book “Harvest of Empire,” originally written by Juan Gonzalez, screened the documentary at Ithaca College on Sept. 18. Lopez, now a U.S. citizen, was born in El Salvador and came to the U.S. in 1967, before the Salvadoran Civil War. Lopez met Gonzalez while working on a photography documentary, “The Puerto Rican Diaspora,” directed by Frank Espada.
Contributing writer Emily Ramos spoke with Lopez about producing the documentary version of “Harvest of Empire.”
Emily Ramos: Why were you interested in adapting “Harvest of Empire” into a film?
Eduardo Lopez: I was always a huge fan of the book, and I thought it was an incredibly important part of the story of the migration of Latinos to the United States that nobody was talking about. But, what is being talked about is the [conservative media’s] view of Latino immigrants as undesirables, as invaders, as people who have recently come to the United States [but] don’t contribute to our country, when in fact all of that is a complete lie. Latino immigrants have always been a part of the United States, have always contributed tremendously to the United States. We should be very thankful that not only we are here, but that we’re an increasingly larger part of the United States.
ER: How long did it take to produce the film?
EL: More than seven years, but we ended up with a version of the film that we envisioned from the beginning. The greatest challenge that we faced [was] telling very difficult truths about our country in a way that could not be perceived as anti-U.S. It’s very important to have these facts before you in order to have greater understanding between all of us, and to create greater tolerance and a greater possibility for the humane treatment of immigrants as we consider immigration reform in the next year or so.
ER: What is the purpose of ethnic studies?
EL: Ethnic studies is incredibly important, not just to the students who take those classes, but for the nation itself. It’s incredibly important for youth to have a greater understanding of who they are, who their parents are, or maybe grandparents, and to understand their place in the United States.
Salvadoran young people in [Washington, D.C.,] have very little knowledge of the war that happened, because parents aren’t sharing their immigration stories with their children. The kids are growing up with a very skewed sense of identity that has tremendous repercussions on the careers they seek and don’t seek, whether they finish their high-school education and their relationships with their parents, which is often strained.
ER: Why do you think it’s important to teach ethnic studies?
EL: As I was grew up, the two most important words for me in the English dictionary were “question authority.” Telling the truth is the most American of American ideals, so when I hear about Arizona outlawing ethnic studies, to me that’s the most un-American action you can think of. It’s equivalent to banning books, it’s equivalent to censorship. Truth is the American way, and that’s why ethnic studies is so important.
Conservative forces are very much afraid of truth, and they are afraid of the truth history tells us. When people try to deny history or try to keep history from young people, it gives them the license to repeat history over and over again to their benefit, but not to ours.
ER: Do you think the film has been successful thus far?
EL: The film has been very successful in creating dialogue and opening the eyes and hearts of our audience. But we have faced a number of obstacles, mostly the lack of a promotional budget and the lack of interest from the national media in covering the topic, the subjects, the questions raised by the film.