“What a beautiful family you have!” people said.
“Yes,” she answered. “But not in the way you think.”
Today, the petite 46-year-old with a highlighted blond bob and a French manicure is a leader in the Washington area’s Hispanic community. She lives in McLean, drives a Mercedes-Benz and along with her husband, a former Secret Service agent whose family is from Puerto Rico, helps local Latino students with their college tuition.
But Thompson-Marquez was once an undocumented nanny and house cleaner.
She arrived in the United States from Peru in 1987 and spent eight years working for two families in Takoma Park, taking the Metro to night school at Montgomery College and then the University of Maryland, where she earned a degree in business administration in 1995.
“The children in the picture are from the families I worked for,” she would tell visitors to her office. “I was a nanny.”
She felt she needed to say it and say it often because so many Hispanic nannies and maids were so embarrassed about their jobs in the United States that they would create fictional identities when telling family members back home about their new lives.
Her conviction that no one should be ashamed of or stigmatized by their history is a theme that flows through “Harvest of Empire: The Untold Story of Latinos in America,” a documentary she produced. The film, based on a book by New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez, screens Thursday at the Aspen Institute and at the Facing Race Conference in Baltimore on Friday. Directed by Peter Getzels and Eduardo Lopez, it has one mission: explaining to Americans that the instability the United States created — sometimes through military and intelligence interventions and other times through economic policies — contributed to and sometimes triggered immigration from places such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.
“We wanted to address the anti-immigrant sentiments that were out there,” Lopez said, “and make the point that there is more to the story.”
The feature-length documentary includes interviews with Hispanic luminaries such as Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz, Puerto Rican poet Martin Espada, and Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu, a survivor of Guatemala’s brutal civil war. These and other interviewees share their personal histories, with an emphasis on Washington’s policies in their home countries at the time their families left for America.
The documentary is being released as the country’s flagging economy continues to fuel a divisive debate over immigration. And with last week’s presidential election highlighting the undeniable importance of the Hispanic vote, Thompson-Marquez hopes that the time is right. “Seeing so many Latinos vote and make a difference gave me so much confidence about the future of immigration reform,” she said. “So what an incredible time to show the film. We don’t have to hide anymore. Maybe more than ever, Americans want to hear our story.”