By Allen Best
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – The day after Christmas, newsman Tom Brokaw narrated an hour-long special about foreign immigration, using the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado as the setting. It was called “In the Shadow of the American Dream.”
The story was a familiar one, if Brokaw’s newscast had value in telling the story with vivid human voices and faces, both that of a construction contractor and an immigrant who deceives the contractor with fraudulent documents.
The contractor, who does business in the Aspen and Vail areas, tells of his quest to find employees for $14 an hour, the de facto minimum wage for construction labourers in these resort valleys. He gets many applications, mostly from Latinos and some with obviously fraudulent documents. In the program, he rejected them. But others have documents that appear valid, and he hires the immigrants, knowing that he has probably been deceived by some.
As well, the show took cameras into schools in Carbondale, down valley from Aspen. The schools are largely Spanish speaking. Locals, despite being generally very liberal, have enrolled their children at other schools, particularly in Aspen. Parents with children remaining express their worries.
Even more unusual was the program’s ability to put light on the shadow. Viewers were taken clandestinely to the trailer where a document forger does business. The illegal immigrant, Trino, speaks freely and at length and freely into the camera, explaining the manner of his deceit, the motivation, and his ultimate goal: creating his own construction business in Mexico. He also allowed the cameras into the four-bedroom house that he shares with 18 others, and even at his wedding.
The contractor, Mark Gould, defends the shadowy world as the backbone for prosperity. He means not only his business, but also more broadly the real estate and tourism-based economy of the Aspen and Vail areas. The viewer is left to conclude that the nation’s prosperity of the last 20 years is also built on the foundation of immigration labor.
The Glenwood Springs Post Independent reported that Gould was inundated by 600 job applications the day after the show, and also e-mails. “The hate mail bothered me the most,” said Gould. “People want to put their head in the sand about this issue.”
Gould fired the illegal immigrant, Trino, and his brother, Juan, the day after the broadcast. “We had to,” Gould told the Glenwood newspaper. “I did not know he was illegal until last night (when the show aired).” But, he added, he felt badly about it. “They’re darned good workers. They learned fast. They learned English.”