She became known as the “persistent Peruvian,” and she rose quickly at Telemundo. Largely, co-workers say, because she had a talent for motivating her staff, embraced working long hours, and was equally comfortable talking with Hispanic activists, construction workers, business owners and academics.
Thompson-Marquez met Lopez in 1996 while he was producing “Linea Directa,” a weekly Spanish-language public affairs show that provides immigrants with information about their rights. She suggested a partnership with NBC4, which now produces the program.
“She really made an impact on me because she had taken a small, moribund television station and turned it into an indispensable voice for the Latino community of the Washington metropolitan area,” he said. “I thought maybe we could work on a large, national creative project together that would deal with Latino civil rights.”
In 2005, Lopez handed her the book “Harvest of Empire,” which to him was “the most important and enlightening book ever written about the Latino immigrant experience in the U.S., because what we saw was the real absence of truth in our national conversation about immigration.”
Gonzalez’s book is used in universities throughout the country. But Gonzalez is hoping the documentary will help give the American public more history and context.
“America is changing, and by the end of the century a majority of people will trace their origins not to Europe but to Latin America,” Gonzalez said. “That’s an enormous transformation. But they never teach us in school here that the huge Latino presence is a direct result of our own government’s actions in Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America over many decades, actions that forced millions to leave their homelands and journey north.”
The film does have its detractors; some argue that economic struggle, more than U.S. policies, has driven immigration. But Thompson-Marquez said that sparking discussion of the non-economic causes of immigration was her goal.
Production on the movie started in Los Angeles in 2008, but there were disagreements over its tone, which Thompson-Marquez felt was becoming too sensational in the way it blamed the U.S. government. Soon after, she left her job at Telemundo to work on the documentary full time, eventually moving the project back to Washington and starting over with a local team. In 2011, she secured a $200,000 Ford Foundation grant to buy the rights to 800 pieces of rare archival footage depicting U.S. involvement in Latin America. She also recruited the Bethesda-based Pixeldust Studios, a husband-and-wife Hispanic-American graphics team.
“It was like an immigrant Dream Team making the movie,” Lopez said.
That team humanized the film’s history lesson with voices like that of Mariana Cabrera, a Guatemalan woman who fled to America during her country’s civil war and whose daughter grew up and graduated from Harvard.
“People in the U.S. have no idea why we came to this country — no idea,” Cabrera says. “And if they do, it’s probably the wrong idea.”