Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary

Institute History

  • 1997 Sundance Film Festival


Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary is a deeply personal, hard-hitting documentary about the disastrous effects of California’s recently passed Proposition 187. The proposition, which passed in 1994, was intended to eliminate education and health benefits for illegal immigrants living in California and became one of the most divisive issues in state politics in recent history. Opponents of the measure worry about the devastating repercussions of denying people fundamental social services.

Centered in Pico Union, the ”Ellis Island“ of Los Angeles, Hoover Street Elementary has been dramatically affected by the proposition. Ninety percent of the student population are political or economic refugees from Mexico and Central America. Both the students and their families are unsure of the impact this new legislation will have on their lives. In the film, director Laura Angelica Simón, a fourth-grade teacher at Hoover, interviews students and other teachers to assess their views. Mayra, an outstanding pupil, is an undocumented El Salvadoran who openly shares her fears and questions regarding her future. Newly strained relationships between teachers and administrators on opposite sides of the issue are candidly examined, producing genuine insight. Many parents are so frightened at the prospect of deportation that they are reluctant to discuss their feelings on camera.

It is a credit to Simón’s filmmaking technique that she includes segments where she allows those interviewed to speak openly. The result is a film that constructs an honest dialogue of the way people really feel about such a controversial issue. Broached topics include bilingualism, immigration, the right to education, and partisan politics within the local community. All of the characters reveal themselves over the course of the story in surprising ways that show the climate that modern-day America has created for immigrant children. The director/narrator realizes how much she has benefited from the previous system which guaranteed the fundamental rights and that ironically she is powerless to protect her own students from the far-reaching implications of Proposition 187.

— Lisa Viola

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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