PBS documents half-century struggle of miners

January 28, 1991|By MICHAEL HILL

Los Mineros means "the miners" in Spanish and a PBS documentary by that name documents a half century of struggle for equal rights by Mexican-Americans who worked in the copper mines in dusty desert towns in southeast Arizona.

Running at 9 o'clock tonight on Maryland Public Television, Channels 22 and 67, under the American Experience umbrella, "Los Mineros" tells a straightforward story of a half century of discrimination, injustice, struggle and, ultimately, victory by these laborers.

The mines around the towns of Clifton-Morenci, Ariz., company towns under the thumb of the Phelps-Dodge corporation, weren't the big open copper pits, they were deep shaft mines, going as far as 4,000 feet underground. They were dug in 1903 as the spread of electricity created a huge demand for copper wire.

The Mexican workers, whatever their citizenship, were given the toughest, most dangerous jobs, paid far less than their Anglo counterparts and refused entrance into the white-run unions.

For decades, their protests and strikes were answered with repressive violence. Indeed, once an American militia crossed the border into Mexico to put down a strike there at a Phelps-Dodge owned mine.

Another time, striking miners were crowded into railroad cars, taken to the middle of the desert, and put out, told never to return to town. When the Depression came, the Anglos who headed west in search of work were put in over the more-experience Mexicans who often had to teach the newcomers how to mine.

It was not until World War II, when the Mexican-Americans realized their equality by fighting beside Anglos, that the demands for equality finally were met.

Though "Los Mineros" seems a bit too linear and simplistic, in fact the story it tells is straightforward, refreshingly so in these complex times. Filmmaker Hector Galan combines archival footage and haunting, evocative interviews with the survivors of these struggles to effectively convey the strength that comes from generation after generation struggling for their rightful dignity.

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