Discusson Guide

Bisbee '17: Discussion Guide

The Film: Participants and Key Issues

Combining documentary and scripted elements in sometimes jarring ways, Bisbee '17 follows the residents of Bisbee, Arizona (a former mining town near the Mexico border), as they commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Bisbee deportation. In 1917, in the midst of World War I, over one thousand mostly-immigrant miners went on strike for better wages and safer working conditions. Under the orders of the sheriff, an armed posse of local residents violently rounded up the strikers and their sympathizers, herded them onto cattle cars, and drove them 180 miles into the New Mexican desert, where they abandoned them.

The film documents present-day Bisbee residents as they play characters and stage dramatic scenes from this controversial event, culminating in a large-scale recreation of the deportation itself. Conflicting interpretations emerge, showing the complexity of collective memory and its influence on present-day identity. Emotions raised by the drama of re-enactment draw attention to current debates involving immigration, labor rights, racism, corporate power and state-backed violence. Haunting messages about solidarity and struggle invite viewers to consider the use of patriotism to rationalize injustice.

Key Participants

Mike Anderson – member of the commemoration committee and historian of the ballpark where the deportees were held before they were loaded onto trains

Charlie Bethea – radio host and head of the committee organizing the commemoration of the Bisbee deportation

Richard Hodges – raised in Bisbee; now in charge of maintenance for the Bisbee Unified School District; plays Sheriff Harry Wheeler in the reenactment

Mary Ellen Suarez Dunlap – Bisbee resident born into a Mexican immigrant family and the first Hispanic woman to win a county election (to become clerk of Superior Court); plays Fernando’s mother in the reenactment

Alberto Lucero – former rodeo performer who plays IWW organizer Rosendo Dorame in the reenactment

Richard “Dick” Graeme – from a family of miners; started as miner and worked his way up to become company president; now retired; plays mine general manager Walter Douglas

Laurie McKenna – artist who created the “Undesirables” exhibit featuring those who were deported

Sue Ray - raised in Bisbee where her grandfather (Les) and great uncle (Archie) were miners; during the deportation, the former arrested the latter and put him on the train. Sue’s sons, Steve (a retired county sheriff’s deputy) and Mel, take on these roles as part of the re-enactment

Fernando Serrano – the young man who plays a Mexican miner in the re-enactment

James West - actor and former private prison employee; plays John C. Greenway, a mine general manager who was indicted but never convicted for kidnapping and conspiracy for his role in the deportation

Key Issues

Bisbee ‘17 is an excellent tool for outreach and will be of special interest to people who want to explore the following topics:

  • Arizon & border history
  • corporate power
  • government abuse of power
  • historical reenactment/historical memory
  • immigrant laborers
  • Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)
  • labor history and organizing
  • mining towns
  • U.S. history (immigration, World War I)
  • unions