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“Tejid@s Junt@s / Stitched Together: Workers, Students, and the Movement for Alta Gracia” is my latest documentary project and it is currently open to crowd-sourced funding through Kickstarter.com. Alta Gracia is a unique factory in the Dominican Republic where workers participate in a strong and independent Union, receive a living wage of more than three times the local minimum wage, and are afforded dignity and respect on the job. These workers cut and sew fabric into Tee Shirts, Hoodies, and other apparel destined for University and College bookstores bearing school names and logos.
Tejid@s Junt@s” in Spanish means “stitched together,” and the way I see it there are two types of possible connections summed up in that phrase. There is one that goes by unnoticed and invisible, and one that, through hard work and an open mind, is evident and therefore transformative. The first is that elusive connection that happens every moment of every day when we purchase, consume, and use things to our benefit without any clue about their origins – or more aptly no clue about the people behind these items. When things like international trade routes, supply chains, and labor standards are hidden from us we all too often have the tendency to simply shrug and approach the material world around us as if it just magically appeared. After all, for years Hermione shrugged and enjoyed the food in the Great Hall before she realized it was actually made through exploitation, hidden from view.
But it’s really the second type of connection that my film is about. It’s the connection that happens exactly when people stop and make the effort to know where and how their stuff is made, perhaps behind the still life of fruit (just tickle the pear until it laughs). This is exactly what I saw happen in January 2012 when I accompanied 20+ American college students from all over the united states on a delegation to the Alta Gracia factory in the Dominican Republic. At Alta Gracia workers and students are constantly making that connection, learning about each other’s lives, hearing each other’s stories, and even forging friendships. It was something that I have never seen before, and I would imagine is very rare in today’s world: to know the woman who sewed the collar on your shirt?
But what is more, through that connection – and sustaining and maintaining that connection – all parties involved are then empowered to work toward a vision of justice that rejects the “fog of war” that keeps us from seeing abuses and exploitation behind a lot of the things we buy. Workers at Alta Gracia are at the forefront of something big, and my camera was only able to capture a fraction of how neat the whole thing is. I got the chance to interview several workers from the factory, trail the other students and get their reactions to our trip, and once back in the united states meet up with Maritza, Yenny, and Anna (all fabulous ladies from Alta Gracia) at student activist conferences in Wisconsin and DC. All that and more makes Tejid@s Junt@s a pretty fun film, and hopefully also inspirational, informative, transformative. Hoping to make Hermione proud!