Synopsis by Mark Deming
In 1994, the State of California passed Proposition 187, a controversial measure that eliminated health and educational benefits for undocumented aliens living in the state. Few places felt the impact of this measure as strongly as Pico Union, California, a city which has been described as "the Ellis Island of Los Angeles." Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary is a documentary by Laura Angelica Simon, a fourth grade teacher at Pico Union's Hoover Elementary School, where 90 percent of the enrollees are originally from Mexico or Central America, and 32 different languages are spoken by the various students. Interviewing teachers, administrators, and students, Simon uncovers a variety of deeply divided opinions on the issues of bilingual studies, the right to education, and the legal and political status of illegal immigrants. The result is a powerful and deeply personal look at a law that, in the eyes of many, only worsened the problems it was meant to address. Fear and Learning at Hoover Elementary received the "Freedom of Expression Award" at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival.