2008 The Inheritors (Los herederos). Brooklyn, New York: Icarus Films.
Notes: DVD Color 90 minutes
Reviewed 22 Nov 2009 by:
William Yaworsky <email@example.com>
University of Texas at Brownsville
Medium: Film/Video Subject
Child labor - Mexico
Children of agricultural laborers - Mexico
Children - Mexico - Economic conditions
Agricultural laborers - Mexico
ABSTRACT: “The Inheritors” documents the grueling labor undertaken by migratory farm workers in Mexico, with a particular emphasis on the lives of children. The film reveals a world of tedious chores, few joys, and fewer opportunities for education. Filmed in various Mexican states, “The Inheritors” unmasks the realities of life in rural Mexico.
This is a film about the rural poor in Mexico. These are not self-sufficient peasants divorced from wage labor markets and state subsidy programs in the Chayanovian sense (as described in Chayanov, 1966). Rather, they better approximate the rural dwellers described by de Janvrey et al (1997). Engaged in various occupations and enmeshed in migratory wage labor markets, they represent a significant portion of the rural labor force in Mexican states like Guerrero.
What we see is a life of labor from childhood onwards—kids herding goats, hauling wood, and picking tomatoes. Other documented economic activities include cement mixing, weaving, artwork, and corn farming, and virtually every farm animal imaginable makes an appearance. If they had shown banditry, street vending, the reforestation/mescal industry and illicit drug production, they pretty much would have covered the gamut of major rural industries. Still, what they showed was enlightening enough. It does not look like an easy life, but the children seem happy and normal (more or less), until one starts speculating on what a lack of educational opportunities portends for their future life chances. The fact that agriculture can be a hazardous occupation and that it employs seventy percent of the world’s child labor force (FAO, 2006) also is worth mulling over. Exposure to pesticides, the elements, and dangerous equipment pose real threats to children, as their inexperience with unfamiliar tools and susceptibility to toxic elements render them highly vulnerable. Migratory agricultural workers have been documented drinking canal water for sustenance and being exposed to pesticides delivered via aircraft (Morelos, 2007).
Such is the conundrum. Marxists and functionalists would love to debate this film. So would cultural relativists and supporters of universal human rights guarantees. I’ve done extensive fieldwork and survey research in Guerrero myself (see Yaworsky, 2005; Kyle and Yaworsky, 2008; Yaworsky and Kickham, 2009) and have seen first hand the devastating poverty in the state’s rural sector. I tend to find value in the Popperian notion that criticism of the institutions and culture traits of society is the right approach, so as to conjecture better solutions to the practical problems faced by the rural poor. But that’s just me.
The film provides little in the way of guideposts. There is no narration and virtually no dialogue (notwithstanding a few scenes with Indigenous dialects and Spanish with English subtitles). We are also not informed where any given scene occurs, and only in the credits are we able to discern that the film jumps around from Guerrero and other southern states to the agricultural fields of northern Mexico. And at 90 minutes running time it is not user-friendly for your typical introduction to cultural anthropology course. Also, you could probably reedit the order of many scenes with no ill effect because this is not an entirely linear film. There is virtually no plot unfolding, except for minor sequences where kids are carrying firewood and water to camp, or, more notably, watching the harvest progress. I also thought that the film would be better if it could somehow show the massive bureaucracy that is channeling subsidies into the rural sector (see for example Kyle, 2008:192-198). Without that context, the film makes it appear that rural folks live a life quite independent from governmental and nongovernmental interventions, however deficient these may be. But to be fair that may have been beyond the scope of the filmmakers objective, which seems to be simply to document the workload of people, particularly children, in Mexico’s countryside. In that regard, the filmmakers succeeded. So for students interested in the realities of life in rural Mexico it provides a useful service. Therefore, I’m happy to recommend “The Inheritors” for courses pertaining to cultural anthropology, Latin American studies, and social inequality.
Chayanov, Alexander. 1966. The Theory of the Peasant Economy. Homewood, IL: American Economic Association.
De Janvrey, Alain, Gordillo, Gustavo, and Elizabeth Sadoulet. 1997. Mexico’s Second Agrarian Reform: Household and Community Responses. La Jolla: Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego.
FAO (Food and Agricultural Organizations of the United Nations). 2006. Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of child labor worldwide. Electronic document originally published 14 September, 2006, and accessed on-line August 25, 2009 at http:www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000394/index.
Kyle, Chris. 2008. Feeding Chilapa: The Birth, Life, and Death of a Mexican Region. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.
Kyle, Chris, and William Yaworsky. 2008. Mexican Justice: Codified Law, Patronage, and the Regulation of Social Affairs in Guerrero, Mexico. Journal of Anthropological Research 64 (1): 67-90.
Morelos, Rubicela. 2007. “Comienzan periplo de los jornaleros indigenas hacia estados del norte.” La Jornada Guerrero. Electronic document originally published Thursday, September, 6, 2007, and accessed on-line August 27, 2009 at http://www.lajornadaguerrero.com.mx/2007/09/06/index.php?section=sociedad&articles=016n2.
Yaworsky, William. 2005. At the Whim of the State: Neoliberalism and Nongovernmental Organizations in Guerrero, Mexico. Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos 21 (2): 403-427.
Yaworsky, William, and Kenneth Kickham. 2009 (In Press). The Pull of the Marketplace: Regional Migration and Colonia Growth in Guerrero, Mexico. The Latin Americanist 53 (4).