Satire and Film: Alternatives to Tackling Migrant Rights Issues

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Sep 25 2010

Even though we primarily feature pieces on the state of migrant rights in the Middle East, I am going to deviate a little from that approach by posting two videos I believe are interconnected to the issue of migrants rights the world over. The first video is set in the United States; the other, Hong Kong.

Satirical mastermind Stephen Colbert, host of "The Colbert Report," testified before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship and Border Security on September 24, sharing his views on what he believes is an important issue, the treatment/plight of migrant workers (many, illegal) who work as farmhands on U.S. farms.
Of course, because he is in character, he is also representing the beliefs of those Americans who are appalled about migrant labor continuing to usurp American jobs. In this case, fruit pickers.

Colbert's approach is fascinating; he stays in character, of this uber American patriot, throughout the entirety of his statement. Well, almost. Yet, as he riffs about men and women picking fruit on farms -- a job he attempted for a day -- where they are susceptible to abuse especially if they are working off the books, you can't help but be drawn in to the narrative. The statement he reads out is also surprisingly quite moving. Somehow by playing the village idiot, he manages to point out the elephant in the room and say, "Look!"

The New York Times has gone more in-depth into the "truthiness" (if you don't know what this means, do look it up) of it all in a piece by Ashley Parker:
'Stephen Colbert testified in Congress on Friday about an immigration bill that he said — in all truthiness — he had not read, “like most members of Congress.”
And when the comedian was challenged by one disgruntled lawmaker about his expertise, which was based on a single day spent hamming it up in a bean field for his show on Comedy Central, Mr. Colbert, keeping completely in character, said that was enough time to make him an expert on anything.'
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The second video needs little set up. Set in Hong Kong, filmmaker Deborah Acosta's short documentary tells the story of Cristina Carrascal, a Filipino migrant worker working in Hong Kong. It was one of the film contest submissions for the ViewChange Film Contest, submitted under Empowerment. ViewChange is presently in beta mode; the full launch is, I believe, in mid-November.

The bit towards the end where Cristina says that she now likes Hong Kong is important. There is a reason behind this transformation and Cristina tells you why.

In Abu Dhabi, a Sri Lankan nanny lived in the building I was raised in. She was employed by a migrant family who treated her like one of their own. The nanny's ward, a little boy, the family's only child, adored her from what I could tell. And a few years on the family allowed the nanny to bring her own kid over from Sri Lanka.

Not all migrant folk are unhappy with their employers. This is possibly true even in the Gulf. Still, it is important to remember that simply treating an individual with respect could do wonders. And quite frankly, migrant rights goes deeper than simple economics, which Colbert alludes to. Although going by Colbert's logic, Americans, I suppose, may even be willing fruit pickers one day if the work provided stellar benefits.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East