Alone and detached behind the echoing walls of a hollow house, Rosa, a South American immigrant in Spain, has no choice but to bear the work of her wealthy boss, Sr. Torres, as his housekeeper. Her precarious life is intertwined with the life of José Maria, a South American immigrant working in construction, who hides out in the dusty attic of the home Rosa tends to and resides in.
“Rabia,” Spanish for “rage,” is a Spanish film, directed by Sebastián Cordero and released in 2009, that focuses on two Latin American immigrants who were once together, José Maria (Gustavo Sánchez Parra) and Rosa (Martina García), to encapsulate the unforgiving realities of immigrants in Spain. José Maria and Rosa’s lives clash when José Maria accidentally kills his boss and escapes the authorities by hiding away in Sr. Torres’ house.
In honor of Women’s History Month, the Africana studies and Hispanic languages and literature departments at Stony Brook University invited Michelle Murray, an assistant professor of Spanish at Vanderbilt University, to speak about “Rabia” and how it voices the alienation and invisibility of immigrant women in contemporary Spain.
“My whole argument about domestic work is that you have these people immigrate,” Murray said. “But they’re never included. They’re submerged into the population as people who are marginalized.”
Rosa’s compassion and support are in stark contrast with José Maria’s criminal anger coming from being overworked and disrespected as a Latin American immigrant. His rage, which alludes to the name of the film, consumes him as he dwindles away, cooped up in an attic, where he witnesses the abuse Rosa bears at the hands of her privileged employers.
“The whole house is a microcosm of the nation,” Murray said. “Immigrants are living in the shadows; immigrants are ignoring their own care to take care of everybody else. There’s a system that will kill you because immigration is the symbol of the poison in the environment.”
As Murray spoke about how the film reflects the disparity in immigration, she engaged with the student audience by raising questions that revealed elusive meanings behind the film.
One important attribute of the film is that it utilizes stereotypical projections of immigrant men and women to represent José Maria and Rosa.
Murray said that in embodying these roles, the film draws sympathy for tireless domestic workers like Rosa, whose strength persists in the midst of submitting to the demands of Sr. and Sra. Torres and surviving their son’s sexual assaults. José Maria’s “darkness,” Murray said, is needed in “understanding the rage and the fury of the oppressed.”
“Immigrant women, some who are undocumented, work 60 to 70 hours a week and are underpaid,” Dr. Tracey Walters, chair of the department of Africana studies, said. “They don’t have the opportunity to speak for themselves because the work that they do is not valued.”
“Rabia” speaks about the larger alienating and economic struggles South American immigrants face in Spain, as well as other parts of the world. Murray sheds light on how the film highlights that without citizenship, immigrants, especially women, have no autonomy over their lives, but do the dirty work of Spain’s powerful upper class. Without money or any kind of support, their identities are essentially rendered invisible and unimportant.
“There are a lot of parallels between the movie and what is going on in the U.S. with migrant workers of color,” Crystal Williams, a junior health science major, said. “The invisibility of their labor is something that still impacts immigrants, like my cousin, who works long hours as a nanny.”