Film makes Latinos disappear - and it's not a pretty picture
BY SUSANA HAYWARD
Knight Ridder News Service
MEXICO CITY - On a recent sunny day, a mysterious pink fog descended on the borders of California, and 13 million Mexicans and other Latinos suddenly vanished.
Gone were maids, field hands, car washers, waitresses and waiters, and their families.
Chaos and paralysis quickly followed. Schools closed, grocery shelves emptied and garbage piled up in streets clogged with abandoned cars. Martial law was quickly declared.
This is the scene painted in the movie A Day Without Mexicans, subtitled The Gringos Are Going to Weep, and its reception at private premieres in Mexico City before its official launch today suggests the satiric comedy is going to be a big success.
Mexicans laughed good-heartedly as on-screen American stereotype characters were lampooned as helpless, pompous hypocrites. But there was a dark undertone from those who could appreciate what immigrant life can be life.
''I went to the United States when I was 23 to become an engineer and study music, and instead I ended up cleaning toilets,'' recalled Edgar Lira, 32, a musician who was born in Chicago, raised in Mexico and lived as an adult in California and Texas.
''It was the reality. I almost cried, it was such a great movie,'' Lira said.
AN IDEA IS BORN
The movie, which is in English and eventually intended for the American market with the title A Day Without a Mexican, has its roots, according to director Sergio Arau, in California's 1994 anti-immigrant Proposition 187, which denied undocumented workers state benefits.
''Our thanks go to Pete Wilson, and we give him a lot of credit,'' Arau told reporters after a screening, referring to the former Republican governor of Californi. Also in attendance: Nobel Prize winning Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez and Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, the former Mexican representative to the United Nations. Zinser was fired after he criticized the United States' treatment of Mexico.
The movie was written by Sergio Guerrero, who lived for 12 years in Texas and California. Despite the word ''Mexicans'' in the title, the film is intended to address the plight of working Latinos of every stripe who think they are taken for granted in the United States, he said.
''It's a serious comedy. The message is to make visible the invisible,'' he said. ``It's like when someone takes a piece of candy away from a baby. The child appreciates the candy only when it's gone.''
EARLY EFFORT FALTERS
Guerrero said the movie was five years in the making and cost about $3 million. The first efforts to open it in the United States were unsuccessful. ''We couldn't compete against the monsters such as Spider-Man,'' Guerrero said, so the movie's backers brought it to Mexico, where it will open in 300 theaters with the hope of building momentum for a return to the United States.
The movie is a many-layered affair with various humorous subplots, each one pricking a cultural bias or clichéd gringo character.
The plot begins with the mysterious pink fog that descends, causing the disappearance of all Latinos -- including Gov. Shaw, who no one knew was Latino.
Named acting governor in his stead is Sen. Steven Abercrombie, a race-baiting
Anglo politico who suddenly discovers how much he misses his Mexican maid,
huevos rancheros and illegal house painters.