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An inside look at life on Tijuana's assembly lines

October 10, 2006|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

"I place rings in the machine."

"I tape electronic pieces."

"I assemble urinary bags."

One by one, the women of "Maquilapolis," or "city of factories," describe in flat tones what they do for hours and hours at a stretch on the Tijuana assembly lines of Sony, Panasonic, Sanyo, Nellcor Puritan Bennett and other corporations.

The documentary, part of PBS' "P.O.V." series, is about the life behind that new package-wrapped flat-screen TV -- the women who work in the vast industrial sweatshops known as maquiladoras.

"Maquilapolis" begins with a striking image -- a line of workers standing in the flat, dusty terrain beyond the factories, miming what they do on the line. The filmmakers, Vicky Funari and Sergio De La Torre, show the outlines of their subjects' lives partly by giving them cameras to record video diaries.

It's a form of citizen journalism that creates a viewing experience that is intimate without being self-pitying. We go into their neighborhoods and onto their assembly lines, the giant factories in the distance looking like mansions on the hill, their detritus besmirching the neighborhoods below.

In Tijuana -- "World capital of the television," as a road sign proclaims -- the women's struggles are micro -- children to feed and shelter -- and macro -- seeking better enforcement of labor laws for compensation and work-related illnesses. Carmen Duran, a single mother of three, lost her job at Sanyo when the company moved the work she and others were doing (making the flyback component of a TV) to Indonesia because the labor was cheaper there, part of a larger trend.

The cameras that Carmen and Lourdes Lujan, another maquila, use to record their lives lend to the activating spirit of their story. Both women, on behalf of their co-workers, become promotoras, going after Sanyo for the severance that was never paid, by law, in jobs that exposed the women, Carmen says, to lead fumes and toxic chemicals.

There is, in the end, some justice. And meanwhile Carmen's current job at Sony is a six-days-a-week night shift in which she's learning how to use computers, though she breathes in lead fumes and describes sores and spots on her body "from contact with this paste we use."

She says her doctor has told her she's at risk of leukemia. But she is paid $68 a week, so the work is good.


'P.O.V. -- Maquilapolis'

Where: KCET

When: 10 to 11 tonight

Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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