network 06/04/2017 - 03:00PM
Monica Gutierrez on Canada’s debt
Monica Gutierrez's moving text response and video clip (below) dismantle the #ComfortableTruth* that migrants owe Canada for the opportunity to be here. Together, her reflections in words and the video short shift the discussion away from the notion that migrants are indebted to Canada towards a critical realization of what Canada (and Canadians) owe to those who work in precarious and exploitative circumstances.
Monica Gutierrez is Colombian filmmaker and visual artist based in Toronto, Canada. Her main interests include art for social change, sustainable practices and citizen media. Monica's artistic practice focuses on organizing community artistic workshops and community arts projects in Canada and Central America.
By working on the short documentary film, THE SUNFLOWER MAN, I’ve faced a familiar and uncomfortable truth: the assumption that migrants owe Canada for the opportunity to be here. THE SUNFLOWER MAN is a short documentary that follows Juan Luis Mendoza, a Mexican migrant worker with 25 years of experience coming to Canada, and Heryka Miranda, a dancer who uses movement for healing. It is currently in post-production after 6 months of shooting.
Luis knows Ontario's soil, weather, plants and crops better than Mexican soil. He loves waking up at dawn to take care of the blooming sunflowers. He is one of the many workers here as part of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), which falls under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP). Like many Temporary Foreign Workers, Luis feels unprotected, isolated and under-valued but is hesitant to complain about his work, or the TFW Program. Heryka has served as a catalyst for creative expression and healing for Luis. She has coached him and helped him explore his dream of being a dancer. Together, they have crafted a choreography based on Luis’ work in the sunflower fields, which they have presented at various festivals and conferences. Below, you can watch a short clip of them dancing in the field where Luis works everyday.
Through the dance, and its public performances, Luis has grown in courage to advocate for himself and speak his mind. After his last performance, in front of hundreds of conference attendees in Ottawa, Luis spoke in English, slow and clear, and said: “Canada owes me something.”
As a migrant myself, and new Canadian citizen, I’ve often felt the guilt of owing Canada for the opportunity to come here, ignoring the other side of the narrative; what Canada gains from my presence, labour and resources. A great portion of the food we consume is cared for, picked and packaged by TFWs. Luis is an example of one man who loves his work, loves the fields and flowers of Ontario, but struggles with the uncertainty and vulnerability of his status. He would like to bring his family to Canada and retire in this country.
Through the filming of this documentary I saw unwilling ignorance shed from Luis’ mind, and his narrative shift towards what Canada owes him, what he deserves for his 25 years of labour and for leaving his home and family for the larger part of each of those 25 years. The process of filming has been a deep learning experience for me as well, and I hope to share the documentary with audiences in 2017. For those of you in Toronto, you can watch the film, with Heryka and Luis in attendance as guests, on April 30th during the Mayworks Festival of Working People and the Arts!
* #ComfortableTruths are mainstream attitudes and ideas about nationhood, belonging and identity that, despite not being true (such as "immigrants have it easy in Canada"), have become so engrained in the Canadian imaginary and mainstream culture that they become orthodoxy. As part of Cinema Politica's Nations & Migrations project, we reached out to activists and artists across the country and asked them to share their thoughts and reactions to these so-called truths.