THE SIXTH SECTION (2003)
The Sixth Section is a groundbreaking documentary that blends digital animation, home video, cinema verité, and interview footage to depict the transnational organizing of a community of Mexican immigrants in New York. The men profiled in the film form an organization called ‘Grupo Unión,’ which is devoted to raising money in the United States to rebuild the Mexican town that they’ve left behind. Grupo Unión is one of at least a thousand “hometown associations” formed by Mexican immigrants in the United States, and they are beginning to have a major impact in the politics and economics of both the U.S. and Mexico.
The Sixth Section is the first documentary to tell this story. Purchase a copy through SubCine
REACTIONS TO THE SIXTH SECTION:
“A marvel of concision at 27 minutes, The Sixth Section is a conceptually sophisticated, formally inventive portrait of a Mexican migrant community inhabiting a transnational space …”
Senses of Cinema
“This is a deftly choreographed, startlingly personal film…an important first look at a whole world that is still too invisible to those outside it.”
UCLA Labor Center
“Every educator, community leader and policymaker should watch this film…”
“Poignantly captures the experience of Mexican immigrants who actively work for their communities both here and in the country they have left behind.”
Vice President for Development
A marvel of concision at 27 minutes, The Sixth Section is a conceptually sophisticated, formally inventive portrait of a Mexican migrant community inhabiting a transnational space between the village of Boquerón, Puebla and the postindustrial suburb of Newburgh, New York. The Poblanos who formed a niche enclave in this Hudson River town to enter the workforce as model proletariats, ready to supply their labour in menial occupations scorned by Anglos, utilise the Internet and basic telecommunications technologies to maintain active roles in Boquerón’s everyday affairs to an extent unimaginable for 20th-century generations of U.S. immigrants. Having come north with the avowed intent of supporting families back home, Newburgh’s Poblanos shrewdly consolidate their efforts into Grupo Unión, an unprepossessing benevolent society (headquartered in a backyard tent) dedicated to public-welfare projects in Boquerón, one of several hundred such groups across the U.S. In a series of lively vignettes, Rivera leafs through Grupo Unión’s jaw-dropping portfolio: the construction of a 2,000-seat baseball stadium; purchase and delivery of an ambulance for the village clinic (sitting mordantly unused for lack of an able driver); instruments for a marching band; completion of an abandoned, half-dug well; and more – all done from upstate New York.
Thus, the village of Boquerón, which is divided into five districts or “sections”, expands through a new transnational temporality to encompass the “sixth section” of Newburgh. The film concludes on a note of heroic uplift, as the state government of Puebla is goaded by Grupo Unión’s example to fast-track a long-dormant plan for a paved highway to Boquerón; the transnational circuit of labour migration and remittances thereby retroactively catalyses the village’s belated physical linkage to the rest of the world. Rivera is an avid student of social history, and The Sixth Section could serve as a textbook illustration of scholarly tracts like the “Transnational Suburbs” chapter in Mike Davis’ Magical Urbanism, or Mexican New York by Robert C. Smith; indeed, Smith makes a cameo in the film. But The Sixth Section alchemises its theoretically informed précis into purely cinematic bounty, and marks an important maturation for Rivera, some of whose earlier videos were too smitten with their own virtuosity. Here Rivera benefits from a restrained application of his digital arsenal, graphically visualising the simultaneity of the Poblanos’ transnational existence (“like quantum particles in two places at once”, in Davis’ phrase) and saving the made-u-look animations for maximum effect, like when he smoothly morphs a close-up of Benjamin Franklin’s puss engraved on a U.S. C-note into the proud visage of the Mexican peso’s Mesoamerican Indian, beneath bilingual supertitles reading: “Mexicans in the U.S.A. send 10.5 billion dollars to Mexico every year. / For Mexico, this income is second only to the export of oil”.
Senses of Cinema
This is a deftly choreographed, startlingly personal film. Rivera gets you inside the life of a hometown association for just a moment, enough to let you just begin to understand how hard new immigrants–with and without documentation–work, and begin to guess at the sources of their resilience and good cheer.
The film is an important first look at a whole world that is still too invisible to those outside it. It raises concerns about social, political and economic injustices that result from denying citizenship to huge numbers of workers in the United States: it shows how unequal citizenship rights play out in peoples’ daily lives.
Subtexts of this film are the intersection of Mexican immigrants’ experiences with broad subjects of culture, labor and politics. It is engaging, fast-paced, and ideal for classroom instruction.
UCLA Labor Center
“The Sixth Section unpacks what transnationalism really means, the effects of globalization on vulnerable communities, and above all, the great potential that mass media have to capture audience attention on these pressing issues that affect communities around the world.
University of Notre Dame
Institute for Latino Studies
“Poignantly captures the experience of Mexican immigrants who actively
work for their communities both here and in the country they have left behind.”
Vice President for Development
The Sixth Section is a fascinating window into the international phenomena of Mexican Hometown Associations. Every educator, community leader and policymaker should watch this film to understand how Latino immigrants today are shaping their communities on both sides of the border, and changing the global economy in the process. “
“Rivera’s documentary sensitively captures how many immigrants live their lives transnationally today. An impressive work. “
Robert Courtney Smith
This film shows transnational grassroots in action. It portrays with powerful images how a small group of migrant workers from Puebla, Mexico are transforming their community of origin and themselves in the process.
Sociology Dept, University of Southern California