Hart Perry's "Valley of Tears" (2003)

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More than two dozen Willacy County residents came to Austin on Friday for the world premier of a documentary film about a significant event in their community's history.

Valley of Tears, directed by Academy Award winner Hart Perry, centers on the Raymondville onion strike of 1979, when farm workers stopped working over a pay dispute.

The film, being shown as part of Austin's South by Southwest Film Festival, also records the struggle of Hispanic families through the 1980s to get representation on the board of Raymondville ISD.

Willacy County District Attorney Juan Guerra is featured heavily in the film, as he leads a community effort to get a better education for Raymondville students that have dropped out of school.

"I thought the movie was great, very powerful," said Guerra, who brought many friends and relatives with him to see the film Friday.

"It showed the history of Raymondville and Willacy County and how, back then, we lagged behind other Rio Grande Valley communities. While they were moving forward and being inclusive, we were stuck in the early 1900s, with Hispanics struggling to make their voices heard."

Perry, a New Yorker, recorded the onion strike by accident. He had been commissioned by the Texas Farm Workers Union to do a documentary on the union. He got to the Valley just as the 1979 onion strike was starting and soon fell out with the union.

"We did have a disagreement," said Perry, who introduced the film at a SXSW showing last Monday. "I thought the story of the town was far more interesting. It was not a black and white story of migrant farm workers being exploited. It was more complex than that. I thought it was about a community that was out of touch with each other."

"Documentary Brings Back Memories of Raymondville, Texas, Onion Strike"
Steve Taylor, The Brownsville Herald, March 15, 2003