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Film Tries to Make Hispanics ‘Visible’ to Others

What if the state of California lost its Hispanic population for a day? If your mind runs wild with potential scenarios, you’ll likely find some of them in a new film called “A Day Without a Mexican.”

This mock documentary, or “mockumentary,” comically explores immigration and <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />California, where roughly 12 million Hispanics reside and comprise about one-third of the population.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
“Cafes lose waiters, vegetables rot in the fields, schools are left without teachers and elected officials, including the lieutenant governor, vanish,” according to an Associated Press review of the film.
 
The movie, shot for roughly $2 million entirely in California, debuted in Southern California May 14, with plans for distribution nationwide later this summer by Grupo Televisa, a Spanish-language media conglomerate.
 
Director and co-writer Sergio Arau, who was born in Mexico City, makes his feature directorial debut with this project. Arau, son of acclaimed actor-director Alfonso Arau (“Like Water for Chocolate”) was already a recognized musician and artist.
 
“The idea of the film was to make the invisible visible,” Arau told AP. “It’s like a car. If you take away a tire, you will notice.”
 
“Low-riders bounce driverless along the street and the Los Angeles Dodgers must cancel games because they don’t have enough players—while the National Basketball Association remains unaffected,” read AP’s review. “UFO fanatics insist the Mexican sombrero is a replica of the spaceship that whisked the missing back to their planet.”
 
Arau wrote the film with his wife, Yareli Arizmendi, who also plays a TV reporter (and the lone remaining Hispanic) trying to solve the mystery.
 
Arau and Arizmendi originally made a short film also called “A Day Without a Mexican” in 1998, when it was commissioned by Chicago’s Mexican Fine Arts Museum. The short film garnered attention on the film festival circuit and eventually led to funding for this feature-length version.
 
Arau and Arizmendi came up with the idea in 1994, when Pete Wilson, then governor of California, was running for re-election. Part of his platform was Proposition 187, which barred illegal immigrants from access to some social services.
 
“Sergio and I were in New York and there were banners all around New York City stating ‘A Day Without Art’—it was the day when all art institutions were shut down to commemorate those who died of AIDS and remind us what a void it would be to be ‘Artless,'” Arizmendi said in the film’s production notes on the Web site.
 
In the midst of Arizmendi and Arau’s conversation about Proposition 187, Arizmendi said, “What California needs is a day without a Mexican!” The idea took off from there.
 
The movie’s Web site gives a hint of the mockumentary’s humor.
 
“My fellow citizens, California has another crisis,” intones a voice in a promotion for the movie. “And this one may have a greater impact than anything that has ever happened before.”
 
“We have lost our pride. We have lost our dignity. We have lost our Mexicans,” the voice says.
 
The Web site is designed like a news portal, which carries satirical stories about the havoc that a Latino-less California creates.
 
“So many films about immigration are very serious or tragic,” Arau told AP. “But humor is the best way to talk about serious themes because people relax and are more open.”
 
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
 
The movie’s Web site is here.