Why Cybraceros?

Director: Alex Rivera. 1997/2002, 5 mins., USA. On-line Digital Film

This satire on migrant labor, globalization, digitalization, and the original bracero (Spanish for “arms”) migrant labor program of the 1950 was so successful that at least a few media outlets took its core suggestion seriously. Director Alex Rivera, using a Web site (www.cybracero.com) called Remote Labor Systems (“Market Driven Solutions for Today’s World Order”), proposed in the on-line digital film that America can have “all the labor without the worker” by using robots in the fields controlled through cyberspace by Mexican workers who never leave their native villages. Rivera shows two robots picking oranges, intercutting what appears to be a Mexican working at a terminal controlling the robot. His use of footage from a 1940s California Growers Council advocacy film Why Braceros? gives his own film an authoritative air.

This solution to “America’s farm labor problems,” the film argues, avoids the key problem with the old bracero program: some of the braceros ran away and stayed in the USA illegally and were even joined by other migrant laborers who were never braceros in the first place. For me the comic high point of the film comes in an animated sequence in which a Mexican worker jumps the fence on the U.S.-Mexico border–that’s the old way. In the new way his arms detach and they clear the fence–that’s the “remote labor solution.”

Rivera uses a New York Times article (“Hi, I’m in Bangalore,” 21 March 2001) about the call centers of American corporations in India as one of his resource links on his website: not only do the Indian workers not even come to America, they also pretend they are Americans. They are another, as the feature film American Daylight dramatizes, successful “remote labor solution.”

P.S. Reporter Miguel Gonzalez, “Cybracero: Telepresence of Farm Workers,” La Opinion (Los Angeles), 27 April 2003, takes the project seriously but is surprised to find out that the United Farm Workers and the Los Angeles Corporation of Economic Development don’t know anything about it.

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