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Movies About Open Borders, Family, and Cannoli

We’ve reached that part of the year where most of the western world is simply resting. The exact traditions may vary, but chances are that your home currently houses a good portion of your extended family. Even those who might wish to return to work can only manage to escape for a few minutes before being dragged into a game of twister or having a plate of food placed in front of them.

In recognition of this allow me to offer the following family-friendly movie recommendations. Although these films center around migration they don’t attempt to shove political messages down your throat so don’t worry about getting into fights with relatives.


Name: Under the Same Moon (2007)

Language: English & Spanish

Summary: The film tells the story of Carlitos, an unaccompanied child, as he makes his journey to reunite with his mother in Los Angeles. Especially topical given this past summer’s events.

One of the things I love about this film is that it was released seven years ago during the Bush administration well before DACA had been announced or Obama was even a household name.


 

Name:  Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)

Language: English

Summary: Follows the life of Cecil Gaines, a butler who served in the White House through the 20th century. Cecil was born in the south but migrates northward, eventually finding himself in DC, in search of better economic opportunity. The film is rare is being one of the few to address the Great Migration, the mass migration of blacks from the south to the north, midwest, and western US.

The later half of the film deals with Cecil’s struggle with his son. His son believes that blacks must confront institutional racism in the south through direct action. Cecil on the other hand seems to think that the best course of action is to migrate out of the south.


 

Name: An American Tail (1986)

Language: English

Summary: Follows a group of Russian mice who have migrated to New York City. During their journey across the Atlantic their youngest son, Fievel, gets lost and must find his family in the new country.

Although the film depicts fictional cartoon mice, it is inspired by the real experiences of migrants entering the United States during the turn of the century.


 

Name: Instructions Not Included (2013)

Language: English & Spanish

Summary: Dead-beat Valentin wakes up one day to find a baby on his porch along with a note stating that he is the father. The film follows Valentin and his daughter’s (Maggie) lives as they migrate to America in search of a better life.

The film breaks stereotypes at every turn and it pays off well.

Maggie might have entered the United States illegally but she has white skin, blue eyes, and blond hair. Her mother had been an American tourist.

Valentin spends well over a decade in the United States and can’t speak English, but the film goes out of its way to make it clear this is because Valentin is a dead beat. In an early scene Valentin is shocked when he tries to speak with others he assumes to be fellow Mexican migrants only to discover they aren’t fluent in Spanish.


 

Name: The Godfather Trilogy (1972, 1974, and 1990)

Language: English

Summary:  A generational epic that follows the Corleone family beginning with the patriarch Vito’s migration from Sicily to the New York City, continuing with Micheal, and ending with the third generation.

The Godfather Trilogy is one of those films everyone knows about, but which few people have sat down long enough to fully enjoy. For example, one of the prevailing themes of the film is assimilation and I don’t think many people get that.

In the opening scene of the trilogy we are greeted by the ‘I believed in America‘ speech delivered by an Italian migrant. The migrant tells us how he put his trust in the American dream, raised his children as good Americans, and followed the American law but was still met with injustice. So to wrong that justice he went to Don Corleone on the day of his daughter’s wedding…

I believe in America. America has made my fortune. And I raised my daughter in the American fashion…

Don Vito himself makes it clear that he knows he is looked down upon as a petty criminal, but he doesn’t feel the need to apologize for his actions since all he has done was with the hope that his children could be full Americans. He looked forward to the day when one of his descendants would be ‘Senator Corleone’.


 

Name: My Family (1995)

Language: English and Spanish

Summary: Another generational epic in the same vein as the Godfather trilogy. My Family depicts the Sanchez, a Mexican-American family that settles down in East Los Angeles.

As readers must have noted by now, quite a bit of recent films depicting migrants focus on hispanics. This should be no surprise given that hispanics have dominated migration waves in the past decades. My Family is unique among Hispanic-migrant oriented films in that it doesn’t really deal with illegal immigration.

The film does deal with the Chicano movement, the Bracero program, the Mexican-American War, the Salvadoran Civil War, and other events crucial to understanding American Hispanic culture but its clear that its catering towards those American Hispanics who are already at the end of the assimilation cycle.

The film begins with the family patriach moving to Los Angeles to live with an uncle. The uncle, nicknamed El Californio, makes it clear that he isn’t a Mexican-American. He was born in California before it was lost to transferred over to the US following the Mexican-American War. El Californio was born in Mexico and as far as he’s concerned he still lives in Mexico.

His relatives on the other hand are less nationalistic and you note this by the language the characters speak in. Early on Spanish dominates the film but around midway the use of Spanish becomes less frequent. At the end of the film the use of Spanish is rare.

Michelangelo Landgrave

Michelangelo Landgrave is an economics graduate student at California State University, Long Beach.

4 thoughts on “Movies About Open Borders, Family, and Cannoli”

  1. I would highly recommend ‘American Dreams in China’. Almost entirely in Mandarin but of course subtitles are available. Shows the struggle millions of people go through to learn English and try to make it into America; the struggles of a young student immigrant isn’t a story we often see. The contrast between his life in his own country and his struggle in America is palpable.

  2. One of the greatest movies about family and family problems I have seen lately, was the Closing Esrow. It depicts the American society in a new light which shows how it is easy to fall into some predetermined category without even doing something. “I sell homes to the minorities” is a clear and humorous way which shows how much we need to advance in order to be able to surpass our current vision of stratified society.

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