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Film Review

A Day Without a Mexican

by Naomi Nakamura and Ileana Gadea |
June 1, 2004
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Ileana Gadea and Naomi Nakamura, both regular contributors to Fight Back!, reviewed the film A Day Without A Mexican. Based on the premise that California is covered by a thick fog and Latinos have vanished, the movie satirically deals with role of Mexicans and Latinos in the California economy. How well does the film do this? What follows are two different views.

A Day Without A Mexican

by Ileana Gadea

It is the happiest evening at the border crossing between the United States and Mexico. Border Patrol men and women welcome a crowd of undocumented newcomers. Like winners of a boxing match, newcomers are paraded on the shoulders of patrolmen. Surrounding them, other officials hug, dance, clap and cheer them. No Mexicans have attempted to cross the border lately, consequently border patrolmen fear losing their jobs. A new wave of undocumented folks has come to restore their livelihood and hope!

“These gringos are cool,” says a Mexican national, overwhelmed by such a warm welcome. He has not heard the news. Not so long ago, the Governor had declared a state of emergency, the whole state had been isolated from the rest of the world by thick fog and, worst of all, all the Mexicans had vanished, leaving behind unattended fields, day care centers, restaurants, leaf blowers and vacuum cleaners. “Where is my burrito?” someone cries. The blonde news reporter desperately searches for her Latin lover. The governor’s wife looks and looks but is unable to find two guys to finish a paint job in her living room. The young schoolteacher prays for her disappeared Mexican husband. Candlelight vigils, flowers, teddy bears...guilty white folks sing Cielito Lindo, a traditional Mexican love song. Uncle Sam posters declare, “I need you.” Imagine a day without a Mexican! The landowner cries for Jose. No one to pick the oranges...

Just kidding! After all, in A Day without a Mexican, the Mexicans did not organize to demand their rights - they simply vanished. Never mind the recent real life boycott and hunger strikes and a long and well-documented history of struggles for equal rights. On the screen, the fog does not let us see them, but they are still there, not rebelling, just there, somewhere. Their promised land lies only in the guilt of white folks.

The romantic affairs as well as the story of the adoptive daughter introduced into the ‘missing Jose’ drama are reminiscent of the traditional soap operas Televisa is well known for internationally. The distributor of the film, Televisa Cine, is owned by Televisa (a powerful Mexican media network, which also owns the Stars Channel ‘El Canal de las Estrellas), where there is not really much room for popular struggles for equal rights. Furthermore, their news coverage has been characterized by the progressive Mexican news media as lacking objectivity and for being an instrument of the government and the wealthy Mexican elite.

At times documentary, at times comedy and at times soap opera, the film, directed by Arau and written by Arizmendi, attempts to underscore the significant contributions of Mexican workers to the U.S. economy and society. A great idea, no doubt! But since the movie did not accomplish that, there are always the ‘missing Jose’ souvenirs available online for a second attempt at some profits.

A Day Without A Mexican

by Naomi Nakamura

What can I say? The film made me laugh and made me cry. I was laughing at the hypocrisy of anti-immigrant wealthy whites who rely on Latino domestic labor and at the no holds barred humor on everything from apocalyptic Christians to ambitious Latinos trying to pass as white, to Bush’s war in Iraq. I shed a few tears when the last Latino left in California, reporter Lila Rodriguez (actress Yareli Arizmendi, who also co-wrote the film) finds out that she is really an adopted Armenian, proclaims that she is Mexican, and promptly disappears.

Director Sergio Arau said that the point of the film is to raise awareness of the importance of Latinos. This the film did, showing the importance of Latinos to the California economy as fruits and vegetables disappear from the stores and former drug-dealers turn to selling tomatoes. The film made fun of ignorant views that all Latinos are Mexican and pointedly mentioned that the Southwest was taken from Mexico.

I do have a couple of complaints: while African Americans had a range of roles, the portrayal of Asian Americans was more shallow and stereotyped - the only two speaking roles were an Asian American woman TV newsperson and a nerdy Japanese American mad scientist. There was also a sex scene that really wasn’t necessary and probably helped the film earn an R rating.

Finally, I have to agree with Ileana that the film wasn’t really about the Mexican worker. What came across in the film was that Latinos needed to be loved and appreciated. All human beings do need love and appreciation, but what Chicanos and other oppressed nationalities really need is full equality. We need to be paid a living wage, to have health insurance, to not be harassed by the police, to have good schools, etc. Last, but not least, Chicanos need the right to self-determination, to be able to reject the U.S. conquest of the Southwest and decide for themselves whether to stay a part of the United States.

What I would really like to see is a documentary of the Latino economic boycott earlier this year that protested the denial of drivers licenses by the state government. Not only did restaurants and other businesses have to close, but there were also mass protests in the streets. I would love to see a film where Latino workers could speak for themselves, and not just be noticed by their absence. That would be a better ‘day without a Mexican.’

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