By Luis Alonso Pérez
Do you imagine watching a big time corporate lawyer on television working an exhausting eight hour shift at a foreign-owned maquiladora plant for 60 dollars a week, and living in a wooden shack in one of the poorest shantytowns in Tijuana?
You might not have to wait for hell to freeze over, because the California Western School of Law’s Acceso Project has produced a pilot program called “Globalization: The Reality Show”, which consists in choosing a group of law school students to work in a manufacturing plant south of the border and living on a 60 dollar a week salary.
This project is about letting people know that globalization has its own rules, according to James Cooper, assistant dean at CWSL and director of Proyecto Acceso, an innovative training program designed to promote the rule of law, strengthen the administration of justice, and empower communities through legal education in Latin American countries.
“Why do networks produce a reality show with people trying to survive in Guatemala, when you have Guatemalans trying to survive on the border?” Said Cooper.
The pilot show was produced last summer as a part of the NAFTA summer course at CWSL. Students were invited to take part in this two week video project, the two future lawyers who joined in had to work and live like a regular maquiladora worker, which meant they had to do backbreaking work, live in a wooden hut on the poorest part of town and make ends meet on miserable salaries.
“When they told me what I would be doing I didn’t know if it was an offer or a challenge” said Matt Holt, one of the law school students involved in the project. “I took the job because wanted to see what our neighbors go through so I could understand why people will risk their lives to get here”.
On their first day at the maquiladora Holt was eager to get to work “I’ve never worked in a plastics company before, but from a law office to here it can’t be that hard.”
Their jobs consisted in scraping the residue of hot plastic pieces for eight hours straight. Roxana Castañeda, the other student who participated in the reality show pilot learned in her first day about the hardships the factory workers went through. After seven straight hours of manual work Roxana had about enough. Her hands were sore and she was so tired she was falling asleep.
On top of that, Matt and Roxana had to build their own home out of scrap wood, because they couldn’t afford new pieces. On their first day as maquiladora workers, the contestants couldn’t figure out how people can survive with these wages when groceries cost almost as much as in the US.
After three straight days of work the law students were about ready to quit.
This experiment resulted in a 42 minute video, which is currently being proposed to television networks hoping it gets picked up for a full season production. If approved, the first season of Globalization will be produced next summer during the California Western School of Law’s NAFTA program. But selling the idea to network executives has been a tough and sometimes frustrating job for James Cooper because the show is too smart.
In spite of this difficult process, the project has been successful in a very important way, because it has made the future lawyers of law makers aware of the real implications of free trade.
According to Matt Holt “Working in the plastics plant gave me an insight of what is like to live in Mexico. Even though we are twenty miles away, we don’t think about what their day to day is”.
If you would like to know more about Proyecto Acceso and the Globalization reality show, visit www.proyectoacceso.com