John Caldwell film screening and seminar: Rancho California (por favor)
October 15, 2004

On Friday, October 15, the Center welcomed a diverse group of faculty, students, and community members to a screening of filmmaker John Caldwell’s recent Rancho California (por favor). We were privileged to have the artist himself present for an introduction, entitled “The Racialized Landscape,” and discussion afterwards. Earlier in the day, through the Center’s Curricular Initiative, Caldwell, associate professor of Film and Television at UCLA, also conducted a well-attended brown bag seminar with graduate students and faculty from the Film Department.

The Rancho California project began in 1994 as an exploration of the presence of migrant workers in Southern California’s affluent suburban communities. The film, and Caldwell’s comments, underscore the importance of both change and continuity in this story. While the lives of the migrants studied, Mixtec-speaking Mexican Indians, are certainly subject to great volatility, the migrant camps featured in Rancho California are part of a pattern that stretches back to the mid-nineteenth century. Predecessors of the Miztequos include Native Americans at the time of the California Gold Rush, Chinese laborers in the late nineteenth century, Depression era “Okies,” and, after World War II, Mexicans.

Caldwell noted that during the five years of filming he observed a masculinization of the migrant camps, as growing violence against migrants and an almost exclusive focus on their labor disfavored the presence of women and girls. But it also became clear to him, and the film clearly shows, that in spite of being fenced in (or out), monitored, controlled, and exploited, the migrants have managed to build their own communities where both artistic expression and social activism have their place.

This precise yet empathic depiction of the myriad ways in which the Miztequo migrants reflect on, and try to retain control of their lives suffuses the film. From a series of appreciative rejoinders it became clear that the audience sympathized with Caldwell’s stated purpose of “trying to figure out how it’s done that you erase people.”


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Center for 21st Century Studies

Merry Wiesner-Hanks

Center for 21st Century Studies
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201 USA
tel: 414-229-4141; fax: 414-229-5964; email:



  Last updated 6/23/06 by RvD&NW