I finally watched one of the best movies of last year this afternoon, Maria Full Of Grace. I have nothing but praise for this movie on one hand but I'm a little concerned on the other. First of all, the movie was well made. It seems far too often that when movies are made about Latin and South America, the characters are these stereotypical thin paper cutouts with no depth or imagination. They're not developed very well so that the main characters, usually an American blonde haired, blue-eyed actor/actress, can grab the majority of the script and face time. This movie took the time to show us a more developed Latina character. Did I mention that I now love the actress who played Maria, Catalina Sandino Moreno? She is perfect; I mean absolutely perfect. She doesn't wear alot of makeup simply because she doesn't need it. She is absolutely perfect. I just can't say enough of how beautiful she is. Did I mention that she is perfect? OK, back on point .....
One problem I have with the movie is that it shows about the only aspect of Colombia or Latin America or South America that we ever focus on, drugs. I'm not denying that Colombia has more than its share of drug problems; to say otherwise is to simply put my head in the sand and act like it doesn't exist. I guess I was just disappointed that the story couldn't have been about more than a drug mule. Wouldn't it have been just as interesting a story about how she would deal with an unwanted pregnancy in a predominantly Catholic country where machismo still runs rampant? It seems that Hollywood wants to portray Latinas/os, but only within the confines of a tired stereotype. How many more times will I see a Mexican gardener or housekeeper?
The other problem I have is related to immigration. No, I'm not saying that I was shocked or angry she decided to stay. I guess I was a little surprised that she decided to stay period. I didn't like that the film left me with a sense of "everything is so much better here, why go back?" Maybe I'm just reading into it. I know, she has a baby on the way and when she got the ultrasound, she realized that maybe here the baby would get better prenatal care. But remember, she doesn't have papers, the only job she'd be able to get would be doing something like what she was already doing back in Colombia. There should've been some acknowledgement of the good things about Colombia and that it was a heartbreaking decision to stay. I think part of it was that she somehow knew that she might not have the greatest life herself, but her children would reap the benefits of her sacrifice. I know I'm reading way too much into the film; we're supposed to walk away feeling okay that everything was "settled".
You know, Chris Rock in his last standup special did a bit on being an American. He made the point that immigrants are real Americans. They have walked deserts, hid on ships, overcame huge and impossible obstacles to get here. The odds are against these folks and then you have John Q. Public who rants about how proud to be an American he is, "I'm an American. I'm a fucking American." These are "Americans" by birth only. They rave about how they support the troops and the wars we fight. But the vast majority of these hypocrites never serve in the military; to them, putting a fucking magnetic yellow ribbon (bought at a Wal-Mart and made in China) on the gas guzzling SUV (which necessitates us invading 3rd world oil rich countries) means that they are being patriotic. Bullshit; offer up your kids if you support this war; offer up your life so that you can truly become an American and truly appreciate what this country has to offer those from other nations.
But how many of these "patriots" really appreciate what people go through to get here, only to face prejudice everyday? Only to work at a fast food restaurant that the vast majority of American kids would never be caught dead working at? Only to be treated as subhuman on menial jobs that offer no healthcare, dental, life insurance benefits? How many Americans are willing to work landscaping today for less than $10 an hour? How many Americans are willing to work fast food? The guy from Africa, who will drive a cab for 12 hours a day; the woman from Mexico cleaning the grocery store at 2 in the morning; the Asian man working at a restaurant 7 days a week; these are real Americans. They put up with our mistreatment; our prejudices; our snide comments; our dirty looks so that their kids won't have to live like they do now. There used to a time in this country when Americans would vote for politicians who would offer a better life for their children. Imagine a politician today saying, "You may feel the pinch now and you won't experience the benefits yourselves. But in the future, your children will reap the benefits of your work today." That guy would never make it on the ballot today. It is a shame that as "Americans" by birth, the overwhelming majority of us can never truly appreciate the hardship that immigrants overcome just for the opportunity in America so that their children will even have a shot at a better life.