‘Down by the Riverside’ is a story about Riverside, NJ, a small working-class town that has become a flashpoint for the controversy over immigration in 21st century America.
By January 2006, immigrants, largely from Brazil, made up close to 1/3 of Riverside’s population. Brazilian and Portuguese-owned shops, restaurants and other businesses had come to dominate and revitalize what had been the town’s steadily vanishing commercial landscape. This had in effect, given the town a new and vibrant cultural personality- one that was not especially welcomed. Portuguese banners and Brazilian flags became highly visible throughout the downtown. Conversations overheard on the street were as likely to be in Portuguese or Spanish as they were in English. Brazilian Samba and other kinds of Latin American music were regularly heard throughout Riverside’s close-quartered neighborhoods. This all had quite a jarring effect on the town’s ‘native’ citizenry.
But it wasn’t just Riverside’s abrupt commercial and cultural transformation that had townspeople disturbed. There were also perceived issues of rising crime rates, tax increase, job loss and overcrowding of schools and houses for whom there was no one to blame but the “illegals”. For the citizens of Riverside, NJ, enough was enough. As cultures clashed and unprecedented laws were enacted by the town council, people from every corner of this polarized community began to raise their voices and speak their minds.
The immigration controversy in Riverside and indeed throughout country, has reached a new level of intensity and polarization. This documentary will attempt to shed new light on the complicated and interconnected issues surrounding immigration and the 21st century clash of two diametric Americas. Furthermore, it will approach the subject matter recognizing that while culture and ethnicity as well as issues of legality, are all major factors in this story, it is fundamentally, a class conflict in which working class people, both US citizens and undocumented immigrants, are caught in the squalid and exploitive underbelly of America’s economy.
Within an historical, economic and political framework this documentary will weave together personal stories that cross barriers of class, race, culture and language – stories of injustice and struggle, disillusionment and hope… stories of people at a decidedly American crossroads.
MIT Professor of Linguistics, Noam Chomsky, Latin American Labor Historian and Author Aviva Chomsky and Temple University Professor of Law, Jan Ting have since agreed to be interviewed for this documentary. They are just three on a broad list of working people, corporate employers, activists, attorneys, authors, journalists, politicians and professors.
Down By The Riverside is being produced by Dim Mak Films, an independent production company in Philadelphia.