Visit by Writer/Filmmaker Laura Simon Honors Hispanic Heritage Month

Writer/director Laura Simon ’85, who received the Sundance Film Festival’s Freedom of Expression Award for her 1997 documentary Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary, will visit the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum on Wednesday, Oct. 5 for a viewing and discussion of her film. The public portion of the program begins at 6:30, with an introduction of the documentary by Simon, followed by a screening and discussion. Seating is free, and is on a first-come basis.

Simon’s visit to campus, cosponsored by the Dean of Students office and the CMC alumni association, celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month. Musical guests Los Pinguos will perform Wednesday, Oct. 12 as part of a special line-up that included last week’s discussion and book-signing event with Jameelah Xochitl Medina `99.

Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary was praised by The New York Times as a “powerful and deeply personal look” at the effects of Proposition 187, a measure passed by voters in 1994 that eliminated health and educational benefits of undocumented aliens living in California. At the time, Simon was a fourth grade teacher at Pico Union’s Hoover Elementary School, composed primarily of students originally from Central America and Mexico. In the film, Simon documents the deeply divided opinions of teachers, administrators, and students on the issues of bilingual studies, the right to education, and the legal and political status of illegal immigrants.

The film was broadcast originally on the PBS series Point of View. It won the prestigious DuPont-Columbia University Award and was named by the Rockefeller Foundation as one of the “ten most important films on American race relations.”

Simon was born in Mexico to parents from Sinaloa and Sonora, and lived there until she was 6. At the age of 10, her family opened a popsicle business in California. Simon sold the ice creams in their East Los Angeles neighborhood and learned to speak English, later graduating as valedictorian of her high school and winning a scholarship to Claremont McKenna College. At CMC she majored in economics and philosophy, and was voted class president.

In addition to Fear and Learning, Simon, co-president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Claremont McKenna College Alumni Association, wrote and produced the 20th Century Fox film Chasing Papi (2003), and wrote the Vh-1 /MTV film Thirty Days Until I’m Famous (2004), a response to her experiences in Hollywood as a Latino writer. She has been invited as an honored guest to the White House and to the Annual Hispanic Caucus Congressional Dinner.

Previous Athenaeum speakers honoring Hispanic Heritage Month, in conjunction with the CUC’s Chicano Latino Student Affairs Center, have included Dolores Huerta, who with Cesar Chavez founded the United Farm Workers; Congressman Xavier Becerra; Alexander Gonzalez, President of California Sate University, San Marcos; actor Edward James Olmos; and the Mariachi Divas.

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