Grassroots Rising Reveals the Eye-Opening Stories of Asian Immigrant Workers in Los Angeles and Their Fight for Justice
Grassroots Rising by director Robert Winn (Saigon U.S.A. ) airs on PBS this May as part of the Center for Asian Media's lineup of films for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. (Check local listings.)
The media gives little press attention to working class America and even less to low-wage Asian immigrant workers. Grassroots Rising tells the powerful stories of these immigrants and the moving struggles they face in the fight to improve their working conditions. Far from the model minority stereotypes who dont rock the boat, these Asians are activists and refuse to be exploited. As mainstream unions have not made many inroads in organizing Asian immigrant workers in Los Angeles, grassroots worker centers have taken their place in educating workers about their rights and collaborating with them to fight for their rights. Grassroots Rising shows what organizations like the Korean Immigrant Worker Advocates (KIWA), the Pilipino Workers Center, the Garment Worker Center, and the Thai Community Development Center are doing in their respective communities.
In Grassroots Rising , we meet Jung Hee Lee, a Korean restaurant worker who worked 14-hour days for more than a year. She became an activist after she learned from KIWA that her boss was violating labor laws by paying her a monthly wage and not compensating her for overtime. We meet Rojana Cheunchijit, who was one of several Thai garment workers forced into slave labor in El Monte, California, an infamous case that made international headlines when the horrendous working conditions were exposed. We also meet Hong Shin Park, who works at a Korean market where he lifts 40-pound bags of rice and 70-pound boxes of cabbages. When he injures his back, he is not compensated. He wants to stay in the U.S. so that his daughter can be educated in America. After meeting a Mexican American labor organizer, he realizes, When one person stands alone, its hard but when many work together, you have real power. We also meet Maria de la Cruz, a Filipina working as a home healthcare worker and trying to support her three children.
Grassroots Rising weaves these stories and many more along with the narration of spoken word artist Alison de la Cruz who says, Do you give up and accept things as they are? No, you have seen too much, you have come to far. Something has to change. The documentary exposes the fallacy that Asian immigrant workers are difficult to organize and show that Asians in American have had a long been involved in the labor movement. The film also includes archival footage of Asian immigrants striking and participating in protests and Filipino workers joining with Mexican workers to form the United Farm Workers. Grassroots Rising shows that community-based organizations like the Pilipino Workers Center are part of a burgeoning Pan-Asian movement to create a multi-ethnic coalition, collaborating to improve the lives of all workers. For director Robert Winn, working on Grassroots Rising was a window into a world where folks made the effort to overcome linguistic and cultural barriers to recognize comon goals. Latinos were speaking Korean. Thai and Korean workers were chanting, Que queremos? Justicia! In the process, they are building a vision of a strong, multiethnic community in Los Angeles.
The Center for Asian American Medias mission is to present stories that convey the richness and diversity of the Asian American experience to the broadest audience possible. The nonprofit organization funds, produces, distributes, and exhibits Asian American films, videos, and new media. For 25 years, the Center has been at the forefront of shaping the way the film-viewing public sees Asian Americans. It has given $3 million for more than 200 projects since its founding, many of which have gone on to win Academy Awards and Emmy Awards. The Centers distribution catalog of nearly 200 titles is the worlds largest collection of Asian Pacific American films and videos for educational distribution. In addition, the Center has been very successful in its efforts to get more Asian American work on public television. www.asianamericanmedia.org