The Utopian/Dystopian American Dream: Immigration and Labor in Latina/o Science Fiction

Sleep Dealer Factories

In Sleep Dealer, Memo and his family live on the margins of rural Mexico and struggle to survive, and are completely closed off from the U.S., and more important, water. The border-dam that the U.S. has created holds a large quantity of water that is prevented from flowing into Mexican lands. Therefore, the U.S.’s privatization of water signifies their capitalist vision of having complete power over a basic necessity from which they can profit. Memo and his family are forced to purchase water from the U.S. so that they can grow their crops. Memo’s home illustrates many dystopian elements, such as: a desiccated landscape, a home that is on the brink of destruction, and a heat wave that radiates across the land, making it difficult for their crops to grow, especially with the lack of water. Therefore, this film suggests that the U.S.’s utopian dream of a non-immigrant society is achieved because they no longer require immigrants to physically enter the U.S. for cheap labor and they have power over a major life-giving resource. In addition, the U.S. has developed advanced technology that is able to transport laborers to anywhere in the world as nodes workers. Memo is intrigued by this techno-utopia[1] particularly through his involvement in hacking the network to eavesdrop on those who have obtained nodes and have become nodes workers. He is obsessed with their stories, and in his mind, becoming a nodes worker fulfills his utopian dream to be a part of a larger network, to escape the confines of his small rural home, and explore other places in the world. However, Memo does not realize that becoming a nodes worker is not the utopian dream that he imagined, but rather another dystopia and enclosure inside the sleep dealer factories.

The sleep dealer factories are scattered along the border near Tijuana and signify another type of enclosure imposed by the U.S. and transnational corporations that want to contain nodes workers in one place and maintain complete control over them. This is not unlike the maquiladoras[2] that exist in Mexico today and others like it around the world. In fact, maquiladora factories have been created near the U.S-Mexico border for primarily young Mexican women to work in the equivalent of sweatshops.

[1] In this case, Memo’s understanding of techno-utopia can be defined as, “Technological utopianism (often called techno-utopianism or technoutopianism) is any ideology based on the premise that advances in science and technology will eventually bring about a utopia, or at least help to fulfill one or another utopian ideal.” However, this definition of techno-utopia is challenged later on by Neda Atanasoski and Kalindi Vora on page 25.
[2] In Mexico, a maquiladora or maquila is a “Mexican assembly plant that imports materials and equipment on a duty-free and tariff-free basis. Maquiladoras receive raw materials from companies in the U.S. to assemble and export back as finished products. Maquiladoras are generally owned by U.S. companies that are incentivized to build maquilas in Mexican border towns in return for low-cost labor and savings.” For an interesting documentary on maquiladoras, I would recommend Maquilapolis (2006) directed by Vicky Funari and Sergio De La Torre. Filmed in Tijuana, Baja California this documentary focuses on the factories on the U.S.-Mexican border.

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