POV: Made in L.A.

About This Episode

Lupe Hernandez, who learned survival skills at an early age, has been working in garment factories for more than 15 years, since she left Mexico City at age 17. Maura Colorado left her three children in the care of relatives in El Salvador 18 years ago while she sought work to support them - she found low-paid work but it came with wretched factory conditions and an "undocumented" status that deprived her of seeing her children. María Pineda came from Mexico in hopes of a better life when she was 18 but after 23 years, the substandard working conditions, a meager salary and domestic abuse have left her struggling for her children's future and for her own human dignity.

These three women, along with other immigrant workers, came together in 2001 at L.A.'s Garment Worker Center to take a stand for their rights. Against all odds, these seemingly defenseless workers launched a very public challenge to one of the city's flagship clothiers, calling attention to the dark side of low-wage labor north of the border. The worker-led boycott of fashionable Forever 21 not only hearkened to an earlier era of struggle for immigrant rights, but also revealed the social fault lines of the new globalization. For Lupe, Maura and María, the long campaign to get the company to pay fair wages and accept responsibility for working conditions in the company's own backyard became a turning point in each of the women's move from victimization to empowerment.

Made in L.A. lays out a system that makes labor laws nearly impossible to enforce and keeps workers trapped between contractor and law enforcement while trendy stores and their customers are unaware of the human costs. But more, the documentary is an account of the remarkable protest mounted by the Garment Worker Center's workers and the revealing stories of three women who join the struggle. Compelling, humorous and deeply human, Made in L.A. is a story about immigration, the power of unity and the courage it takes to find one's voice.