9 Movies That Put Trump’s Wall To Shame

Editor’s Note: We are republishing this story in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which is September 15-October 15. Please click here to read more of our coverage about Latinx communities.

This story was originally published on August 23, 2017.

We know all the ways Trump has tapped into a potent and virulent xenophobia and bigotry, promising his supporters a “big, beautiful wall” to keep out all the bad hombres of the racist American imagination. Remember that this bigotry is where he began his campaign, declaring on day one that Mexicans were rapists and “not our friend, believe me.”

But what so many are eager to forget is that Mexicans have been part of the fabric of this country since before it was the United States—California and Nevada were only acquired by the United States from Mexico in 1848. Mexicans and Mexican Americans had been living in the United States for decades before Ellis Island opened to immigrants in 1892. Politicians who would have us believe that Mexicans and Mexican Americans are a criminal burden are actively erasing this history by proposing bans on Mexican American studies courses and textbooks in schools without pausing to consider where major city names like Los Angeles, San Antonio, or Sacramento came from.

These films depict generations of families—brothers and sisters, parents and babies—traveling, making unbearable decisions, struggling, striving, and hoping to provide better and safer lives for their children and loved ones. They depict Mexican Americans who are treated like trash in public schools in Los Angeles and by the LAPD, and Mexicans who are treated like prey by violent predators. All of this and more will forever remain a part of the American fabric because we’re not going to forget our history, and we’re not going to let other people forget it either.

A character in the film Mi Familia has the following inscribed on his tombstone:

“Cuando yo nací aquí, esto era México, y donde yo descanso, esto es todavía México.”

When I was born here, this was Mexico, and where I die, this is still Mexico.

1. Zoot Suit

Director: Luis Valdez
{ Universal Pictures }
Release Date: October 2, 1981

I’ve written about my lifetime-long love for this film before and all those words are still true. Zoot Suit is based on a true story and follows a group of Mexican American youth who are unjustly tried and convicted for a murder they did not commit in the 1950s.

2. El Norte

Director: Gregory Nava
{ Cinecom International }
Release Date: January 11, 1984

A brother and sister flee Guatemala to escape the Guatemalan Civil War, traveling first to Mexico, then Los Angeles, to find work and a place to call home.

3. Stand and Deliver

Director: Ramón Menéndez
{ Warner Bros. Pictures }
Release Date: February 13, 1988

Stand and Deliver stars Edward James Olmos (of course it does) as Jaime Escalante, a math teacher at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles. Based on a true story, Escalante and his students came under fire in 1982 when 18 Garfield students passed the AP Calculus exam and their scores were marked as suspicious—partly because they all made the same error on the same problem and used the same unusual variable names in their work, mostly because they were students of color from a 96 percent Latino part of Los Angeles.

4. Mi Familia

Director: Gregory Nava
{ New Line Cinema }
Release Date: May 3, 1995

Mi Familia gorgeously tells the story of one Mexican American family across three generations, starting with a father’s yearlong trek on foot from Mexico to Los Angeles in the early 20th century.

5. Maria Full Of Grace

Director: Joshua Marston
{ HBO Films }
Release Date: January 18, 2004

Maria Álvarez is 17 years old and supports her parents and her sister with her job at a flower plantation in Colombia, but when she becomes pregnant, she makes a perilous decision so she can earn enough money to keep supporting her growing family. Maria Full of Grace highlights the danger and desperation many immigrants face in order to support those they love.

6. Walkout

Director: Edward James Olmos
{ HBO Films }
Release Date: March 18, 2006

Based on a true story, Walkout depicts the 1968 East L.A. Walkouts led by Chicano students to protest the unequal conditions in their school districts, where students of color are paddled for speaking Spanish in class, forced to perform janitorial tasks as punishment, locked out of school bathrooms during lunch, and discouraged from pursuing a college education.

7. Bordertown

Director: Gregory Nava
{ THINKFilm }
Release Date: May 18, 2006

Because of NAFTA, many American companies have opened large manufacturing sites called maquiladoras right across the U.S.–Mexico border in Ciudad Juárez, where mostly Mexican women work long hours for little pay and hundreds of women have been murdered since 1993. J. Lo stars as an American journalist sent to Mexico to investigate these real-life murders.

8. César Chávez

Director: Diego Luna
{ Canana Films }
Release Date: March 28, 2014 

The labor leader and civil-rights activist César Chávez organized 50,000 farm workers in California, cofounded the National Farm Workers Association with Dolores Huerta, and led major nonviolent protests and campaigns to protect the rights of workers in the 1970s.

9. Desierto

Director: Jonás Cuarón
{ Esperanto Kino }
Release Date: April 15, 2016

Desierto follows a young man and woman trying to cross the border while a merciless and violent American vigilante tracks and tries to murder them.

by Dahlia Balcazar
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Dahlia Balcazar was a senior editor at Bitch Media, the co-host of the podcast Backtalk, and the host of the live show Feminist Snack Break. She’s passionate about horror films, ’90s music, girl gangs, and Shirley Jackson. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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