Screening of ‘Battle of Invisibles’ with director Manuel de Alba


by Jordan Cowell
Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR)

On March 1 and 2, Mexican film director Manuel de Alba will visit Ithaca, NY to host screenings and discussions of his award-winning documentary La batalla de los invisibles (In English, The Battle of the Invisibles). CUSLAR and departmental sponsors will host the events: March 1 at 7:00 pm in Willard Straight Theatre at Cornell University, and March 2 at 4:00 pm at Textor 101 at Ithaca College. The events are free and open to the public.

The Battle of the Invisibles is a bilingual Spanish and English documentary film released in 2010 that recounts the labor exploitation of janitorial workers from Puebla, Mexico as they work for certain major U.S. supermarkets.

Faced with poor work conditions, scarce pay, and long hours, The Battle of the Invisibles is a story of struggle and a fight for freedom for the 2,300 immigrant workers against powerful supermarket chains in California.

The janitorial workers find themselves in a particularly vulnerable situation, as the majority of them are undocumented immigrants and do not speak English.

Spanning a 5-year struggle, this is the largest legal case of its type in U.S. judicial history. Janitorial staff working in the supermarkets Vons, Safeway, Albertsons, Ralphs, and Pavilions from 1994 to January 2003 were owed money for not having been paid in accordance to United States law.

Some workers were being paid as little as $2.47 per hour. They often worked unpaid overtime, and some only had off of work on Christmas day. Other labor violations include the possible dangers of the job, such as a lack of gloves or masks as they work with chemicals in confined spaces. In many instances, the workers did not know what chemicals they were handling.

Through personal interviews with several immigrant workers, attorneys, and other professionals involved in the case, de Alba takes the viewer through the lived experiences of the individuals. He amplifies the voices of those who have been silenced, underscoring the power dynamics between corporate America versus the migrant labor force. By publicizing this case, de Alba exposes the realities of some migrant workers in the United States.

In 2010, this film took first place in the Festival Internacional Santiago Álvarez “in memoriam” in Santiago de Cuba. The following year it won “Best Foreign Film” in the Festival Internacional de Cine en Puebla. Film director Manuel de Alba is a documentary and short film producer and director. He has done extensive work in directing and producing film, script writing, radio producing, and critiquing film. Currently, he is a full time film professor at the University de las Américas-Puebla and a current Fulbright Scholar at the University of Scranton.

Sponsored by: Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR), Latina/o Studies Program, Latin American Studies Program, Department of Romance Studies, Language House at Alice Cook House, Cornell Cinema, MEChA de Cornell, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Ithaca College Latin American Studies and Ithaca College Modern Languages and Literature.

For more information on the labor violations and legal case, visit:

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