PBS ‘Latinos Are Essential’: Who does the work and who pays

The Public Broadcasting Service has just introduced a series of short films entitled Latinos Are Essential. These short-form documentaries are dedicated to depicting the crucial role Latinos are playing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The films will be shown for the next two to three months on PBS.org platforms including PBS.org and PBS Video App.

Hollywood film is so often the stuff of dreams. Americans have always used these commodities for escapism from the harsh realities of life. Musicals and clever comedies provided relief from the Great Depression. Mysteries and action films distracted from war and privation. Current adventure and fantasy superhero movies project an idealized world where good triumphs over evil.

But in today’s world, with harm closer than ever, new heroes have emerged. The everyday heroes who now keep our nation safe, fed, healthy, and comfortable are now more and more Latinx. The ethnic group that has been for so long marginalized, in cinema as in public life, has frontline prominence maintaining U.S. society and economy against the dangers of this plague. Sadly, their engagement in holding the line has resulted in hospitalization rates over four times higher than Caucasians!

These documentarians present the compassion and ironies of crisis. Their stories are compelling. Astrid is a construction and domestic worker from Colombia. When her main jobs are cut off, she finds a temporary job cleaning subways as the epidemic peaks and New York goes into lockdown. Anel Medina, a 28-year-old Pennsylvania nurse, is one of 200,000 DACA recipients serving in essential positions across the United States. Trauma ambulance driver Dulce Bueno is only 22 years old. She works long, stressful, dangerous hours for one of Colorado’s busiest trauma centers. Monica Navarro is a Walmart associate at the Cielo Vista store in El Paso where, in 2019, a domestic terrorist targeting Latinos shot and killed 23 people.

The mainly young filmmakers and their mainly young subjects have gone beyond the confusion and drama of crisis. They do what so few films do: They capture portraits of working-class people at their jobs and illuminate them. Through their work, these depictions and accounts, we are left with a picture of the dignity, courage, and production of labor in the face of adversity, of people who are risking their lives to hold together a society that so often mistreats and often rejects them. We need to see and hear their stories long after this latest crisis recedes. The trailer can be seen here.


Michael Berkowitz
Michael Berkowitz

Michael Berkowitz, a veteran of the civil rights and anti-war movements, has been Land Use Planning Consultant to the government of China for many years. He taught Chinese and American History at the college level, worked with Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Org. with miners, and was an officer of SEIU.