Documentary Takes A Look At Houston, Port Arthur

Vanguard producer Lauren Cerre filmed

The Great American Detour

over a three-week period as she went from Los Angeles to New York, stopping at eight cities and towns along the way to talk to young people about their concerns regarding the upcoming election. Instead of asking, “What do you think of the war?” Cerre asked, “Do you know anybody that has served in the war?” The answers she got were more personal and less theoretical.

“Going across America just before an election isn’t the most original idea, but we wanted to take away all the filters and just go see for ourselves. We wanted to talk to people who are actually living these issues, health care, the economy, the war. What we found was that you don’t really have to dig deep to find people affected by the greater forces, the issues that politicians just throw around during debates or speeches,” says Cerre. “Everyone really has a story about how those issues affect them.”

In Houston, Cerre talked with locals about health insurance (Houston is the most uninsured city in the nation) and in nearby Port Arthur, (said to be one of the most toxic towns in the U.S.) they talked about industrial pollution.

“Houston has a high rate of uninsured so we wanted to go there and just talk to young people about what it’s like to live without insurance, with limited access to health care. We went to a bar on a Sunday and asked for a show of hands, ‘Who has health insurance?’ The three girls that were there didn’t have health insurance, and one of them was studying to go into medical school,” says Cerre.

“In Port Arthur we spent an afternoon with Hilton Kelly, a local activist. He introduced us to his community and we got a real sense of what it’s like to live in a town that’s considered to be one of the most toxic places in America."

While in Port Arthur, Cerre heard the old joke, “Ew! Port Arthur smells.” “Yeah, it smells like money.”

“I have those exact sound bites in the piece. Yes, it smells but then again what else is there? This is the bread and butter of the Port Arthur economy. So the question becomes, all right this industry is here, but how can this industry work with the community to provide a better living for everyone, not just in wages but in a cleaner, healthier environment?

“It’s really telling of this election that people are really concerned about local issues,” Cerre says. “It’s not about foreign policy, it’s about ‘How can I get a job?’, ‘How can I get health insurance?’ That’s what people are interested in.”

The Great American Detour airs on Current (available on cable television) on October 29. Check listings for times and channels.

Olivia Flores Alvarez

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