Race-work, Race-love

2013 Fascinating Latino Story 2: Finding Purpose Through Latino Film

In Uncategorized on December 30, 2013 at 6:30 pm

The first entry in my 2013 Fascinating Latino Stories was about #LatinoLit. For the second one, I would like to focus on Latino Film. (Side Note: One of my students, an aspiring film director, told me that she believes there is a difference between movies and films: movies, she says, are meant to entertain while films are meant to educate. I never thought about the difference between movies and films but when she mentioned it, I couldn’t help but wonder about the impact Latinos have on film, or how film impacts Latinidad.)

There were notable moments. One example is the documentary Latino Americans, a three part series on PBS, because it provided some very interesting historical facts about the Latino community, how it was formed in the US, how Mexican Americans and other Latinos have been systematically betrayed and discriminated in order for Anglos to take land to expand the U.S., and the future of Latinidad. While there were some interesting facts unearthed, as I will add at the end of this post, the documentary had some pretty interesting critiques, one example that you will find here. One question asked on media outlets promoting the documentary that I personally thought was NOT appropriately asked since there was no context is the following: “Do you feel more Latino or more American?” This question suggests that we have accepted a White European model of who Americans are/should be and separates Latinos from Americans. While I understand that Latinos live in what sometimes is described as living in two worlds within the same country, I reject that model as a native New Yorker born of Ecuadorian immigrants. I don’t see American as “White” or “Anglo” especially since America’s original inhabitants are Native/Indigenous peoples. This leads me to wonder: how are we defining what is and who can be an American? Are Latino films that are supposed to be about the Latino experience addressing this question? There are moments in the film that I was very disturbed by, particularly the stories that somewhat glorified an assimilationist perspective of the Latino experience which led me to think about the following: are Latinos shaping definitions of “American” or are we still trying to incorporate ourselves to a systematically constructed White American model that has been difficult to break? Thus, while the film is important, more work about Latinos need to be created, more with gendered, race-d, class-ed perspectives. We must also consider the audiences we want to write for and consider my final point about the film: Why are we STILL trying to prove to [White and Black] audiences that we are American?

Taking into consideration these last questions, there are several Latinas/os who are responding to these questions in interesting ways. They include DreamTown, El Barrio Tours, and Negro: A DocuSeries About Latino Identity. Each provide a glimpse into the complexities of who Latinas/os/Latin Americans are, who we are becoming, and the spaces we inhabit.

Beyond the actual creation of films centered on Latinas/os, we must also think about venues that provide a space to view and think about these kind of films. Unfortunately, one of the most popular of these venues, the New York International Latino Film Festival (NYILFF) ended their 13 year tenure showcasing Latino films that were very rarely shown in mainstream theaters. I am a bit angered that a collective could not push this really important system in Latino media forward. At the very least, I hope a new generation of Latino theater venturists would be inspired to reignite another of its kind, again.

In future Latino Film moments, the new Cesar Chavez film will open and provide a new generation of Latinos and others with this very important part of Latino history. Who knows, maybe someone will be inspire to do a movie on Dolores Huerta or Celia Cruz! In a past Latino Film moment, Eugenio Derbez’s movie Instructions Not Included set a record “as top-grossing Spanish language film of all time in the U.S.” I haven’t seen this film yet but I do hope it is setting records for positive reasons and not for a reliance on stereotypical Latino tropes that seem to be more successful in the U.S.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of moments. To get all your information on Latino Film and other forms of art, please follow El Blog de HOLA. You can also find the blog and other work about Latino Film and art by following the hashtag #SupportLatinoWork. Find the origin of the hashtag here. Shout out to A.B. Lugo for all the important work he is doing in this area. Pa’lante!!

So, here is the interesting Latino History Fact that I learned from the documentary Latino Americans: Did you know that the space Lincoln Center in New York City inhabits once was home for Puerto Ricans & African Americans? According to the documentary Latino Americans, the policy named for removing them from the area to build Lincoln Center was called “Spic Removal”.

Did that settle in? Spic. Removal. Helped create Lincoln Center.

Who knew we were walking around a cemetery that holds much NY Latino history…

Film and other forms of art is how we visually document our histories and actively construct new narratives. Artists are quite often thought of as people who hold the dreams of our communities and help shape our people’s purpose. Not coincidentally, today is the fifth day of Kwanzaa – Nia. Let us create the spaces for our Latina/o artists to help shape our people’s purpose as the Latinization of the U.S. continues.

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