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The American Tapes: Tales of Immigration

A four-part series that revisits the life and and times of four families last seen as "undocumented" immigrants in the 1986 Mexican Tapes series.

Most people think of immigration as a finite moment; but as a story it really spans several generations and two nations. My production, The American Tapes: Tales of Immigration depicts this broad view by expanding the timeframe of my 1978-1986 work, The Mexican Tapes: A Chronicle of Life Outside the Law. The new work of four one-hour episodes affords an intimate and long-term reflection on the life and times of four extended families from Mexico, during the interval from 1986 to the present, most going from "undocumented" to citizenship status. 

The stories of these immigrant families are astounding and debunk stereotypes. One woman, shown working at a McDonald's counter in the previous tape, now owns three income-tax businesses and has become a Jehovah’s Witness. Her agnostic daughter is a Hollywood accountant to the stars. The daughter’s father, an ex-Tijuana gang member who used to cruise in a hopping, metal-flake painted low-rider in 1982, now runs an automotive garage. The Montes family and their five kids lived in a ridiculously cramped 15’ X 15' studio apartment in the '80s. Now the parents and all of their children own separate nearby homes in a southern California neighborhood. The Montes’ also opened a solar-powered hotel in their Mexican hometown in Nayarit last year.

After they returned to Mexico in 1983, I lost contact with one family after dropping them off at the Tijuana bus station. Fortunately, I was able to find them, the only family not staying north. They evidence how the adult lives of the children who played together in the '80’s courtyard have been differently shaped by their national contexts.

Not all the stories are so positive or lives so changed --- one family struggles financially; the wife still cleans for a living much as she did 25 years ago, excepting she is now working at a Native American Casino and the husband, still working as a landscaper, maintains soldiers’ homes on Camp Pendleton Marine Base. They are desperately trying to buy a house with their daughter and her husband. Yet, in spite of particular difficulties, all the families share the traits of strong, interdependent families and a strong work ethic.

The evolving history of the community’s diasporic population adds important new dimensions to the immigration chronicle introduced by the original Mexican Tapes. The myth of the Mexican immigrant kids embedded in a culture of poverty, and the lack of education that challenged their parents as recent immigrants, is not borne out by this group. As reflected in these lives, the much-maligned 1986 federal “amnesty” program has been a success. My new work engages stories of language, religion, racial intermarriage, the fading linkages to their parents’ native origins, and their own children’s relationship to Mexican culture.

The Mexican Tapes depicted the undocumented families not as people in handcuffs or trying to evade the Border Patrol (which they were), but rather, as my neighbors and people who might be anyone’s neighbors. Whereas the parents in The Mexican Tapes struggled, the children have become, in many ways, like me: middle-class citizens, educated, with well-spoken English, and non-menial labor jobs. Hence, the title for the new work: The American Tapes. The collaborative character of the production, working with the families to make the tape, gives the work its strength, singularity, and credible character.

— Louis Hock, 2014

# Title Artists Run Time Year Country
1 The American Tapes: Part One Louis Hock 00:58:26 2013 Mexico, United States
2 The American Tapes: Part Two Louis Hock 00:54:12 2013 Mexico, United States
3 The American Tapes: Part Three Louis Hock 00:56:26 2013 Mexico, United States
4 The American Tapes: Part Four Louis Hock 00:58:58 2013 Mexico, United States

The American Tapes: Part One

Louis Hock
2013 | 00:58:26 | Mexico, United States | English | B&W and Color | Stereo | 16:9 | HD video


Between job losses, foreclosures, living with family, and the Cande’s constant desire to return to Mexico, Pancha and Cande work through the strains of their marital relationship in San Diego County. Not able to have a house of their own, they resume the calmer life of renters, ending with a celebration of Cande’s 58th birthday. 

In 1982, Marisela was a 16 year-old immigrant mother, living in poverty, with the dream of becoming an accountant. By 2000, she realized her dream, converted to a Jehovah’s Witness, became a divorcee, and raised her daughter Veronica, in her accounting footsteps. Both mother and daughter, despite their differences, are successful and continue to dream big.

This title is part one of the four part series The American Tapes: Tales of Immigration.

The American Tapes: Part Two

Louis Hock
2013 | 00:54:12 | Mexico, United States | English | B&W and Color | Stereo | 16:9 | HD video


First Ramon, and then Rufina moved to San Diego County in 1980, unable to raise their family as landless sharecroppers in Mexico. Though uneducated, they manage to work as a landscape contractor and housekeeper, respectively, buy a house, and raise 6 children who complete high school and maintain successful management jobs.

While the other families took advantage of the amnesty provided by the U.S. in 1986, Maria and her family returned to Mexico in 1983. Thirty years later, Maria's son Carlos struggles to support her, his wife, and three daughters, working several jobs, all the while building a two-story home. They have a dream to open and run a convenience store.

This title is part two of the four part series The American Tapes: Tales of Immigration.

The American Tapes: Part Three

Louis Hock
2013 | 00:56:26 | Mexico, United States | English | B&W and Color | Stereo | 16:9 | HD video


Ramon's attraction to his Mexican hometown has resulted in his building a massive new residence for his family. However, his wife, Rufina and their grown children have no interest in leaving the U.S. The building has now been transformed into a hotel. The completed construction, in the middle of cornfields, while finished for 5 years, is been frustrated by the local government’s refusal to turn on the electricity.

Carlos and Marta realize their dream of opening a convenience store, yet find that the enterprise is both a pleasure and a struggle. As Carlos loses his other jobs, the family worries about their finances, particularly the expensive desires of his three daughters to attend college.

This title is part three of the four part series The American Tapes: Tales of Immigration.

The American Tapes: Part Four

Louis Hock
2013 | 00:58:58 | Mexico, United States | English | B&W and Color | Stereo | 16:9 | Video


Cande and Pancha’s daughter Maria Luisa and Marisela and Cachuchas’ daughter Veronica believe their fathers are locked in a competition for grandchildren. It’s now 3-0 Cande. Several years later, Cachuchas gives me a lesson in car repair then with Cande considers the change in score, 4-2 Cande.

Cande worries about his tense job as a crew chief, maintaining soldiers’ homes at a Marine base, Camp Pendleton. While he is on vacation in Mexico his daughter gets married and he reflects there on his dream of returning to his hometown to farm his family’s fields. After their return, the rental house Pancha and Cande share with his daughter, her husband, and their children is threaten with a break-up. In the end they all buy a new house and Cande finds a new job, still dreaming of farming in Mexico. -Louis Hock

This title is part four of the four part series The American Tapes: Tales of Immigration.