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KPBS Midday Edition

San Diego Filmmaker Paul Espinosa Looks Back On 30-Year Career

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San Diego Filmmaker Paul Espinosa Looks Back On 30-Year Career
San Diego Filmmaker Paul Espinosa Looks Back On 30-Year Career
GUESTS: Paul Espinosa, filmmaker, "The Lemon Grove Incident" Laurel Dougherty, supervisory archivist for special collections, UC San Diego Library

This is midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Document info Mac -- Paul Espinosa said the audiences want what they've always wanted a good story. Espinosa has been giving audiences that providing documentaries about the US-Mexico border that we way ahead of their time. He worked for many years here KPBS and his work was sure nationally on public television. His documentaries will be we shown around San Diego as his research and archives find a permanent home at UC San Diego. Joining me is filmmaker Paul Espinosa. Welcome to the program. Very nice beer. Laura Doherty is a supervisor for a special collections at the UC San Diego library. Laura, welcome. Thank you. The border and immigration are big national issues today. What kind of attention was a US-Mexico border getting back in the 80s when you made some of your mace -- most famous document trees? The border always received a certain amount of attention I would say at that time and maybe even today some of attention is relatively on the negative side in terms of seeing the border as a sense of problems and crises and that kind of thing. I think that during that time period there was more potential for really showing that there is an alternative world that existed out there not just here in San Diego but all along the Mexico border. For me it was really a wonderful place to be working because there was so many wonderful stories that were being told that I felt had some potential to really and form not just audiences here but all over the country. So I feel very fortunate that I landed here in San Diego and was able to mind the opportunities that the Porter represented in that time period. I am thinking of the TV documentary like in the shadow of the law about families leaving illegally in the US. That must have been the first times that national audience got a glimpse into the lives of immigrants. That is right. That was the first national documentary that was looking at undocumented immigrants that have been in the united states for many years. That film was done in 1988 just two years after the 1986 immigration reform act which was major change in her immigration policy. At that time the national perspective of the who they were were pretty limited. Part of the focus was to look at families. Wasn't a single males but families in a been in the United States for many years and had put down roots. Two of the families that we focus on had been living in the United States for 20 years and had been living difficult lives but were part of the American system and we wanted to show that so that was definitely a very terrific piece and opened up a lot of eyes especially both locally and nationally about the lives of people that were living in this kind of situation for many years. Paul, what are due for being a filmmaker. I was trained as a other apologist and I did my graduate work at Stanford. As you know, anthropologist go someplace usually far way to study with the natives. I decide to go to Hollywood. I basically looked at a television studio as sort of my village and I studied how they went about creating television not so much from a technical point of view but a from a cultural point of view. I landed somewhat at Mary Tyler Moore Studios and a show that didn't exist but became the grant show which was kind of interesting show to look at. Ice to the study and I was able to look at the inter-workings of the development of that show. I also learned a great deal as I was doing that. I wasn't -- I wasn't thinking that I would get involved with television, but one thing led to another around that time I had internship here KPBS with the sign center that was led by Jeffrey Kirch who went on to be the head of the sign center here in San Diego. I got interested in this is something that I could do and I was interested in documentary reduction. I could also see that I want to stories about this region it was basically virgin territory in terms of anything that was being done both locally and nationally. In a short period time, I was able to start producing films that were able to get fairly wide visibility both at the local and national level. We have a click from your film The Lemon Grove Incident which highlighted the history of school segregation in San Diego. Mexican workers contribute to the growth of lemon growth industries working in the rock quarry. The packing house and the citrus orchards. Lemon Grove elementary school and rolled almost 200 students. 1930 the fact that nearly half of the students were of Mexican heritage was a threat to some residents. For these children, the decision to build a separate Mexican school marked the beginning of a dramatic as so they would remember all of their lives. That is a clip from the lemon Grove incident. It is a documentary. Is directed by Paul Espinosa. I should say that that film grew out of a previous film that I had done called the trail north and both were collaborations with a colleague Robert Alvarez who was -- we went to graduate school together at Stanford. He is from San Diego and he did research on his own families story and the trail north was part of that film. It was his family migration from Baja California to the United States. And doing that film, I became aware of this lemon Grove incident that really was virtually unknown. We decided to make a film about this very early. It is a first successful legal goal challenges school segregation anyone the country. Most people if they know anything about school segregation the know about Brown versus Board of Education in 1954. This case proceeds it and it involved Mexican American children. It was a very interesting and challenging project. We interviewed over 80 people that had been around during that time period and people that were children in elementary school at the time. They -- they created a drama it is a hybrid form we have interviews with real people were telling their stories and also dramatized in parts of the story because the question was how do we tell the story and had we visualize what happened? We visualize some of the scenes in the courtrooms and seems in some of the Mexican American homes during that time period and presented this. I think it was a wonderful project. Many people who were here I KPBS of the time worked on that film and participated in the dramatizations. I think it is a film has a long life. It is still shown widely in colleges and universities for people who want to teach about this time period. Paul has just donated film clips and interviews to UC San Diego or go what kind of resources that for scholars at the University? Where hoping that the Espinoza archive for really appeal to the right audience -- white audience. Have some and produces a film within the context of the San Diego arts community. We are also thinking that there are primary resources area those papers such as the interviews, transcripts, sound recordings from subjects of Paul's film -- fields. -- Films. There is content there that can cut -- be used by others. Different levels of researchers were hoping to find an interest within the University campus. We have a a lot of off-site researchers, visit our reading room and where hoping the collection will add to the depth of our Chicano and border regions studies. What you see as some of the most important pieces of his archive? For me, the original interview transcripts and sound recordings of interviews for subjects for the films. We hope those can be a resource that can be mined in new ways and also captures the voice of people whose voices often aren't recorded in the conformal setting of the archive. That is really gold for future generations to look back and think about the things like The Lemon Grove Incident or for example, in the border films, starting people that were working on the foxhound studios. We have wonderful interviews with these people. It is a moment in time that Paul was able to develop as a subject in his film. Many years from now we will have those recordings and those transcripts. They can be looked at in a fresh light as time passes. Paul, what is like for you to have your work and research materials now designated as Espinoza archives? Of course, it is a wonderful feeling. I am pleased about the readership with US -- UCSD. My wife was a professor there for many years in the Department of literature. I have very familiar with US US -- worked a man is different though projects. I know that they have a very terrific special collection and has the resources to be able to manage the kind of archive that I have an IP sickly was always kind of a pack Representative. I kept all kinds of materials related to any projects that I did. I also agree with Laurel that the important parts of this is the original interview was with different people that I might it is in weight and use them for a put to way in one fell but certainly they are kind of a slice of life of something that happened at a certain time ago I think they are very rich precisely because these were not part of the official records or to speak. I think having access to those both the transcripts they have transcript that were created and audio. I think they're very valuable. As time goes on, it will be something that will be important for both scholars and local community people there go many of these people that we interviewed have the senator in Senegal. They are going to be interested in hearing an interview with her grandmother or great grandfather. Also I think scholars from other parts of the country are also going to be interested in getting this in some way Amy for comparative purposes or whatever. I think it is a valuable resource. I am very pleased that it is going to US they UCSD. Never years ago I helped sort of work on getting [ Indiscernible ] his collection is also at USC Estee. I think there is growing awareness about the importance of some of these kinds of collections that really do give a new piece of the puzzle of San Diego's history that I think is going to be increasingly important in the future. Laurel, as part of celebration of receiving those papers, UC San Diego is sponsoring the screening about -- three appalls films. Can you tell us about that? Yes, I can. We had a wonderful opening reception hosting by the central library work Paul gave some comments and we will be sponsoring three of his films. That starts Friday at UC San Diego The Lemon Grove Incident. That is correct. Paul, what are you doing now? I am working on a film on another sending a story a local musician Chucky Sanchez. Has been around for long time. He went to send you a state and was involved during the civil rights unit. -- The evolution of an artist of a musician in this case. Than the larger backdrop of the Chicano civil rights movement that he lived through and participated in the importance of music and -- impetigo to social movements is one of the things of the film. It is a project that I've been working on for some time ago Chucky did some of the music for The Lemon Grove Incident and some of my other films earlier. That is a project that I hope to complete in the not-too-distant future and have that available for audiences both locally and outside of send you go. Paul, you make the point that the history that you documented in your archives and your films will become of increasing importance as time goes on here in San Diego. -- For people to realize what the history of the coming demographic of the majority of Californians being of Mexican heritage. That is going to be very important. I am wondering what your assessment of the politics surrounding the border and immigration is now? Doesn't seem to be a deep misunderstanding of the issues that you explored in your films? I don't know if I was a deep understanding of misunderstanding. I definitely think we have a lot of work to do to sort of educate ourselves and this region about the reality of what we live in. There is no question that 9/11 I think really set back our relationships I was a prior to 9/11 there was a lot of interest in financial relationships of all kinds. At the political level, cultural level, personal level and they still are a lot of interest in that. It is him is like we've also now have these new players that have really taken a sense hindered developing relations and cultivating relations in this region. Readerships I think that are vital for like if you name any issue like water, air, transportation basically we have to have -- we need to have a regional perspective to think about a lot of these issues and to solve some of these problems. I think we have to work at that clearly we've become more sort of protectionist in the last 15 years which I think is a natural response to some of things that have happened. In a way it doesn't really -- this border -- this is a most heavily cross-border in the world. It is one of the few borders between the so-called Third World country and a first world country. Mexico is one of our mustn't important trading partners. We have the size of the Muslim population and the larger Latino population there are more Latinos in the 19th and there are people in Canada. It is a vital and it's going rapidly. Everybody knows that. I think it is incumbent on everyone educational institutions, professionals, to make a big ever in a can to educate and inform themselves about what this means. Part of it means looking back at the history and understanding where we live right now used to be part of Mexico. One of my big projects was the war between Mexico and United States. There was a four hour series that we did for PBS and Mexican television. Understanding that this region used to be part of another country. It's always going to have a very distinctive Mexican characteristic. I think that is something that lots of people know. We need to be working at educating our popular -- local population about the imports of that and also what that means for the future. Once again, three appalls Espinosa's documentaries will be screened here in San Diego on Friday at the limit -- The Lemon Grove Incident are uses a nickel. The Hunt For Pancho Villa will be a screen November 4 at the cinema in North Park and the earth did not swallow him screen November 10 at the Museum of photographic arts and Balboa Park. I think speaking with filmmaker Paul Espinosa and Laura Doherty supervisory archivist for special collections at UC San Diego library. Thank you both very much. I shooter. Thank you, rain. -- Maureen. Thank you.

Image from "The Lemon Grove Incident"
Image from "The Lemon Grove Incident"

Award-winning filmmaker Paul Espinosa has donated 240 cartons of scripts, interview transcripts, research files and other professional papers to the UC San Diego Library. The archive represents a more than 30-year career in filmmaking that started in San Diego.

Espinosa began documenting the border region in the 1980s.

"I think people have always seen the border as a source of problems and crises," Espinosa said. "But back then there was more potential for showing there was an alternative world out there. There were so many wonderful stories that weren't being told that had the potential to inform audiences."

In 1988, Espinosa was one of the first to take a national audience into the lives of families who were living in the country without legal status.

And in "The Lemon Grove Incident", he details the nation's first successful legal challenge to school segregation, which happened in Lemon Grove in 1931, more than 20 years before the landmark Brown vs. The Board of Education.

UC San Diego is celebrating the windfall with free screenings of three of Espinosa's films, starting with "The Lemon Grove Incident" on Friday at the university's Cross Cultural Center.

UC San Diego is also holding screenings of "The Hunt For Pancho Villa" on Nov. 4 at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park and "...and the earth did not swallow him" on Nov. 10 at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park. All screenings start at 7 p.m.

Archivist Laurel Dougherty said the interviews with residents on both sides of the border contained in the archive would prove valuable for students and researchers long after the screenings.

"That's really gold for future generations," Dougherty said.

Espinosa also played a role in bringing to UC San Diego Herman Baca's archive, which chronicles more than 40 years of San Diego's Chicano movement.

"There's a growing awareness of these types of archives are an important piece of the puzzle of San Diego," Espinosa said. "A piece that I think will get more important."

Correction: an earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that Espinsoa helped bring LeRoy Chatfield's archive to UC San Diego.

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