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Cleveland International Film Festival


On Friday, April 6th, we went to the Cleveland International Film Festival to watch a documentary titled "Bisbee '17" whose Community Partner for the festival was the Interreligious Task Force on Central America (I.R.T.F.)which was very understandable because the subject of forcible deportation from one's home was  were a central point of the the story and the I.R.T.F. is actively involved on behalf of the rights of the foreign-born.

On July 12, 1917, approximately 1,200 striking mine workers, associated with the International Workers Union (aka the I.W.W.) and their sympathizers were forcibly deported from Bisbee, Arizona by "Phelps Dodge" a major mining company in collaboration with local authorities. The deportees were taken by railroad to Tres Hermanos, New Mexico where they were released after having been given strict instructions never to return to Bisbee again.

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The documentary tells of an re-enactment of the incident and the events leading up to it in 2017 by Bisbee residents whose ancestors were directly involved and their divided feelings about what took place 100 years earlier which was the strength of the film; it wasn't one-sided because different points-of-view were presented. Particularly eloquent was the testimony of a man who had thoroughly researched and studied the situation and sincerely believed that the deportations were necessary to preserve peace and order. On the other side, several of those interviewed believed what happened was disgraceful.

Indeed, prior to the screening, the film's producer Mr. Douglas Tirola spoke to us for a moment and said that he believed that there were parallels between what happened then and what is taking place at this time. Afterwards, a Q and A was conducted in which we asked Mr. Tirola about the immigration status of those deported. He replied that he believed that 70% of them immigrated to the United States from Mexico or Eastern European countries and perhaps what they had experienced in their homelands had made them more apt to join with the I.W.W. which was considered to be politically radical by U.S. standards.  In short, union activity seemed to be the most prominent factor for choosing who would be deported since some people who had lived in Bisbee all or almost all of their lives were forced to leave too. 

However, we, ourselves (a strictly personal observation) can't help wondering if racism/xenophia might have made those chosen more vulnerable for mistreatment at that time.  

Regarding the effects of deportations and the separation from one's family and friends for an extended period, among those who took part in the re-enactment was a young Hispanic man whose mother was deported to Mexico (i.e. for illegal acts committed here) years ago leaving him here in the U.S. For him being able to take part in project was very much a learning if not consciousness-raising activity for him because he was still psychologically troubled due to the severance.  


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC