Spring 2016. Unexpectedly for most observers, Donald Trump reaches the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination for president. With his anti-immigration statements and his populist views, Donald Trump leaves no one indifferent. In this overheated situation, everybody speculates on the outcome of the election. This is when ICI Radio-Canada calls the director and producer Orlando Arriagada, who almost 2 years before, pitched them a documentary project about the political views of Latin-Americans. It was worth the wait; the timing was perfect to discuss this red-hot topic.
Orlando Arriagada meets with young anti-Trump activists (Photo credit: François Léger-Savard)
Timing is everything
Looking back on November 2012. Barack Obama is re-elected for a second four-year term. At the time, Orlando Arriagada is on vacation in Florida with his family. He listens with interest to the political analyses about Obama’s victory on television. According to what was broadcast by large TV networks, the “Latin vote” could be the main element that made the balance tilt in favour of Obama in many states. But this director-producer does not think the explanation is that simple. Himself a Quebecker of Chilean origin, he wishes to go to the source, to meet Latin-Americans to learn more about their point of view. He also wants to anticipate what will happen in the following election, in 2016.
With his team, he does some research and monitors the situation closely. He then pitches a documentary project at ICI Radio-Canada through his production company Pimiento. But the broadcaster has doubts: “We presented the concept even before Trump’s nomination was announced. At first, the project stayed untouched for almost two years, but we kept on doing research on our side because we were convinced that Radio-Canada would be interested one day or another. When they came back to us to start development, the project had evolved. It changed because of Trump’s declaration, who became an official candidate. The project was relevant; more in sync with the news than ever before.”
Challenges and successes
It’s in the middle of the US election campaign that Orlando Arriagada and his team start their 8000 km trip through various Latin-American communities. Such an adventure involves many challenges. The major difficulty, in this case, was the fluctuation of the Canadian dollar. “When we started to shoot, the value of the Canadian dollar had dropped compared to our original budget. Everything was costing more money, and this is something we had no control over. My duty was still to tell the story in the best way possible, while showing on screen what we promised initially. I did not want to lower the content or the quality,” emphasise the producer. Fortunately, his origins helped him to be on the fast track to get access to shoot: “Because I speak Spanish, a trust relationship was built quickly between me and the contributors of the movie and we got the accreditations faster. They saw that I was Latin, like them, so the doors got opened more easily, as much from the side of Republicans as Democrats. I have to admit that I don’t speak English very well! Luckily, I never have to speak English when I go to the United States, since Spanish is the second most spoken language, for the most part. The whole movie was shot in Spanish.”
Orlando Arriagada in front of Trump International Hotel Las Vegas (Photo credit: François Léger-Savard)
One accent, a thousand colors
Indeed, the Latin-American population is high in many American states. This is precisely where Orlando stopped to do his interviews: “To do the movie, we wanted to do a portrait as large as possible of the Latin-American society in the United States. We have therefore been to several large cities where Latin-Americans live, like Miami, Washington, Los Angeles and San Antonio. Even if the people we met were all Latin, in every location, the challenges were different.”
Besides, what the team discovered over their conversations, is that the opinions of the Latino population are a lot more varied and nuanced than one might think: “On both sides, Republicans and Democrats, there are different opinions. A lot of people think that Latinos are all Democrats. In a state such as California, it’s true, but it isn’t the case everywhere. In Latin-American chambers of commerce across the country, for example, there are a majority of Republicans.” Also, individual experiences greatly influence the way people vote: “In some families, the third generation is “legal”, but the first generation is not yet. So children live in fear of seeing their parents or grandparents being deported at any time, what would be unfair for them. On the other hand, the ones who did complete the immigration process legally think it’s unfair that others ask for easier access to US citizenship than what they had to go through” recounts the producer. However, generally speaking, Latinos might be closer to Americans than it might seem: “Latin values fit very well with the US ones. They are very traditional values, such as family, mutual aid, religion… even if the language and the way of life are completely different.”
The production team (Photo credit: François Léger-Savard)
Why and how
We can ask ourselves why Orlando Arriagada became interested in a phenomenon that occurs outside Canada: “A great way to know yourself is to see what happens elsewhere. Personally, it has been 25 years that I have been in Quebec. The immigration process is completely different here from what happens in the United States. The way of life of Latin-Americans over there is also very different from ours. Here, in Canada, we have the opportunity to engage into the mainstream society relatively quickly. Yes, we have to fight prejudice and stereotypes here too, but there is bigger diversity and less ghettos, which ease the integration process. So, as a Canadian, I am interested in seeing how immigration happens on the other side of the border and how those people identify either with Republican or Democrat values.”
While addressing a topic as sensitive as politics, one could have expected that the director shows his opinions clearly in his documentary. But he makes sure to present the various aspects of this social issue without sharing his views: “As a director, I wanted to take a Polaroid picture of society at this precise time, show a fair overview, and let the public make up their own mind about what they see. It’s not my goal to tell them what to think. During the interviews, I sometimes heard openly racist comments in the discussions. In those cases, it’s hard to stay neutral. It could have been very easy to depict Democrats as crazy or Republicans as racists. But the reality is that there are people with different opinions and there is room for every one of them. This is what makes the beauty of our democratic life. We can listen to each other and live together even if we disagree.”
Producer-Director Orlando Arriagada (Photo credit: François Léger-Savard)
Through Le Vote Latino, Orlando Arriagada wants to do more than show political allegiance to one party or the other: “The documentary lets us go further in societal phenomenon, to understand why people act in such or such way, what are their motivations. Sometimes, in our society, we still have a hard time to accept differences. So, my motivation, to make documentaries, is to show various realities, shades, sides and voices. I don’t want to provoke: I try to show another point of view without judging. And when you take time to listen to the other one, even when our opinions do not align, we always end up finding a common ground. I wish to show that part of humanity in every point of view. This is always where there is a reconciliation.”
The documentary Le Vote Latino is available on ICI Tou.tv (via the show Les Grands Reportages). For more information, visit votelatino.radio-canada.ca and Pimiento productions on Facebook.