Madrigal v. Quilligan was, from its outset, the kind of striking David-versus-Goliath story that Hollywood and history books usually love — Erin Brockovich with an East L.A. twist. Yet when Virginia Espino began researching the case in 1994, almost all its details had been lost and forgotten.
Around the corner from Arpaio, near a bright yellow sign that read “No Outlet,” two producers and two cameramen huddled with the Univision anchorman Jorge Ramos, running through their pre-interview preparations. Cameras rolling. Microphone on. “I’m on TV,” Ramos told me later. “I’m constantly thinking about performance and journalistic integrity.” For him, one is no use without the other.
In his 2002 memoir, “No Borders: A Journalist’s Search for Home,” Ramos recounts that in 1991 he was elbowed in the stomach and knocked to the ground by a bodyguard after accosting a politician, peppering him with questions and making an uncomfortable declaration. This time, the politician was President Fidel Castro of Cuba, and what Ramos said was, “Many people believe that this is the time for you to call for an election.” At the last word, the bodyguard’s elbow struck.
In Hollywood and at New York University’s film school, people had told David Riker that no one would want to see a movie shot in Spanish without a single professional actor. But his film of real immigrants dramatizing their stories in their native language — the sweatshop on the silver screen — sold out show after show, prompting the Quad to extend La Ciudad’s run from one week to three months. So many immigrants arrived with their entire families that the theater waived its policy of refusing admittance to children under 10.
Reading Mona El-Naggar’s and Laurie Goodstein’s terrific coverage in the New York Times of how ISIS attracts new members into its ranks, I was reminded of a similar dynamic at work in Julia Reynold’s astonishing new book, Blood in the Fields, which I reviewed for the winter issue of ReVista. Reynolds focuses on a bloody organization located within the United States: the Nuestra Familia gang, which runs criminal activities and murders opponents throughout the western states. Despite the geographical difference, the gang’s predatory recruitment tactics sound a lot like ISIS’s method of appealing to disaffected young adults. As I wrote in my review:
Nuesta Familia seduces boys from broken homes with visions of cash, excitement and eternal brotherhood. Then it manipulates their ethics with double talk that suggests robbery, extortion, and drug dealing are merely types of “work” that serve the noble “Cause” of protecting their communities.
ISIS, El-Naggar and Goodstein show, successfully attracts young men from intact families partly because the society around them feels so broken. It replaces chaos with a sense of purpose, order, and brotherhood -- all backed up by a violent and radically conservative interpretation of Islam. Nuestra Familia cunningly deploys a similar co-optation of an established, and generally peaceful, intellectual framework. Its original members
Pirated the civil rights language from César Chávez’s workers’ movement, which has nothing to do with the gang. Yet the sneaky co-optation works. Teenagers who are hungry for accomplishment swallow the rhetoric whole, and through this cunning lens see NF membership – with its daily grind of dealing, intimidation, and assault – as a kind of chivalric code.
That ethical bait-and-switch sounds dispiritingly familiar, no matter where it takes place.