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Film Explores Both Sides of American Dream

By Brian Allen
Special to The Lookout

April 7 -- Any parent sporting a “Number One” Mom or Dad t-shirt would be well justified in taking it off and handing it over to real-life “Parents of the Year” Rogelio and Yolanda Garcia, who are the subjects of a film screening in Santa Monica this weekend.

The two Oaxaca, Mexico natives were able to pay for their children’s college education by collecting 8,756,093 cans and bottles along Venice Beach and are now the subject of Santa Monica filmmaker James Scurlock’s film, “Parents of the Year.”

While the film -- which was named best short film at last year’s Los Angeles Film Festival -- showcases the remarkable feat accomplished by the Garcias, it also explores the consequences of pursuing and achieving the American Dream.

“Though on the surface it is an almost perfect ‘American Dream’ piece,” Scurlock said, “I wanted to show how complex the American Dream itself has become.”

Scurlock was compelled to make the film in part to challenge the assumption that the Garcia family story got its happy ending when their oldest son was admitted to MIT in the late nineties.

In fact, the Garcia’s quest for upward mobility had profound consequences for the family, as well as for Yolanda’s health, and this too is the focus of Scurlock’s film.

After coming into the United States illegally 24 years ago, the Garcias soon found themselves with no jobs and few options. Yolanda eventually began collecting cans and bottles in order to make ends meet, and was later joined by her husband.

For years Rogelio and Yolanda awoke at midnight to begin the task of amassing recyclables out of garbage bins and dumpsters, and often worked through the night and into the following afternoon, all the while clashing with local drug dealers, homeless, police and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

It was when, after a great deal of toil and perseverance, the Garcias were able to send their oldest son to MIT that they attracted media attention and were voted “Parents of the Year.”

But even after sending their children to college and receiving $23,000 in unsolicited donations from the public, the Garcia family found the American Dream to be a mixed blessing.

Scurlock’s film demonstrates how the Garcia’s children came to occupy a very different world than that of their parents, a rift symbolized by their son’s brand new Lexus.

“What a lot of people and Yolanda herself failed to appreciate is that the children themselves are Americans,” Scurlock said. “And their dreams are not about the kind of struggle their parents endured -- for survival. Their struggle is to achieve success, status.”

Scurlock also captures the conflicting emotions experienced by Yolanda as her health begins to deteriorate. The film shows how Yolanda can no longer ignore the degree to which her attempts to push her children into the American middle-class are affecting her.

Scurlock describes Yolanda’s dilemma at the film’s conclusion as the question of whether to “keep working on the streets and die or stop and risk her youngest son’s future.

“It’s a heart breaking choice that, in my opinion, no mother in a civilized society should be forced to make,” Scurlock said.

“Parent’s of the Year” will screen on Saturday April 9 at 6:45 p.m. at Mt. Olive Church, 1343 Ocean Park Boulevard. The screening will be preceded by a reception and followed by a question and answer session with Scurlock.

For more information on the screening , please call 310.392.6252. For more information on Scurlock’s work visit www.trueworks.us.

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