FILM: A Melting Pot Boils Over


Erica Hellerstein reviews “Shenandoah,” a documentary that takes viewers into the heart of a small town reeling from the beating death of an undocumented immigrant by high-school football players.

Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, is a small town with a few defining details. A lonely pastry shop stacked with empty trays. An iron-clawed bulldozer chipping away at an iconic old church. A misty pink sunrise huddled between the hills. A bustling Mexican restaurant, and a man in a T-shirt that says: "I'm American, so I speak English." This is the economically depressed town that Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer David Turnley brings to life in his documentary, "Shenandoah." In many ways, Shenandoah feels like quintessential small-town America, with residents' fierce pride and enthusiasm for local happenings like the high-school football game and the Christmas parade, where Santa Claus parachutes in from a plane. Once a thriving coal-mining town built by Italian, Polish, and Irish immigrants, Shenandoah has been hit hard by the recession and industrial decline. Most recently, Mexican and Latino immigrants have begun settling there in search of farm and factory work.

Erica Hellerstein
Publication date: 
January 15, 2013
Publication type: 
Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies Article