By Luis Machuca |
The aspirations, ambitions and ultimate disenchantments resulting from this country’s make-or-break reality are things that transcend national backgrounds and intimately resonate through many a dispersed migrant group. The Latinization of New York and other metropolises in the United States has unfolded with rather consistent uniformity in the various Hispanic subgroups. According to the Migration Policy Institute, as of 2013 there were 19 million Hispanic immigrants in the United States. Most come over for the chance at the American Dream, which essentially means that they hope to have an increased opportunity at accumulating capital. So whether they call it plata, chavo, dinero or pisto, and whether they come from Colombia, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, or Honduras, the allure of the American dollar fills them with forms of optimism that are often more fanciful than reality permits. Such was the case in the 2009 film by Paola Mendoza, Entre Nos, which is a heart-tugging, tear-jerking, and thought-provoking semi-autobiographical rendition of Mendoza’s experiences at American acclimation after relocating from Colombia. The film engenders discussion about the many issues and challenges faced by immigrants: from language assimilation to homelessness and, of course, viable economic opportunity.
Entre Nos unfolds as follows: after Antonio has his wife and children uproot themselves from Colombia to New York, his insatiable wanderlust gets the better of him and he relocates to Miami, under the pretense of a job opportunity. Upon discovering that he has no intention of coming back or of sending for them, it is up to Mariana, played by Mendoza, to care and fend for her two young children, Gabi and Andrea, in a foreign country. Of course, one of the immediate challenges faced by Mariana is that neither she nor her children speak very much English. She is forced to communicate through broken sentences and mimicry in order to express her desire to provide sustainable income and shelter for her children, and more often than not these attempts fall on impatient and uncaring ears. In one such interaction, Mariana attempts to get a job as a day laborer with a white woman who barely lets her get her thoughts out before dismissively brushing her aside and moving on to the next hired hand. Another scene has her trying to negotiate a payment schedule for housing with a short and snappy building manager who initially rebuffs her despite Mariana’s despairing pleas. Also yearning to express himself for the purposes of cultivating an intimate friendship, Gabi, the eldest child, struggles to communicate with a female youth of his age bracket, but is unable to foster a relationship to the depths that he seems desirous to attain.
Homelessness becomes another hurdle that the family is forced to overcome after their insensitive landlord evicts the family from the apartment they originally settled in due to non-payment. Although Mariana unsuccessfully pleads with him to at least let her retrieve her belongings, the landlord padlocks the apartment and shoos them away. Gabi’s quick thinking allows the family to salvage a few meager belongings as he sneaks into the apartment through an unlocked window and grabs whatever he can grab, mainly a few articles of clothing and some money that they had stashed away in a statuette. The family is then forced to sleep on park benches, a train station platform, at bus stops, and a motel when they can afford it. The insecurity of their situation is represented magnificently by Mendoza and the two child actors and will scarcely leave a dry eye in the viewing audience. Gabi grows to resent this arduous lifestyle and harbors ill-feelings towards his mother, whom he misguidedly blames for their newfound misfortune. Although sentimentally enthralling, this cinematic representation of the instability caused by homelessness among the immigrant populace is an all too real adaptation of a rampant, yet understated and under-addressed problem.
Throughout the film, Mariana is faced with the ordeal of finding a sustainable way of supporting her family. She tries to get a job at a local Spanish diner to no avail. She also attempts to sell empanadas on the street for a dollar with no takers. She then tries unsuccessfully to become a day laborer, but with no available caretakers for her children, she does not find anyone willing to take her on. Lastly, she resorts to collecting cans, with the assistance of the children, for a paltry five-cents-a-can payout. However measly the amount, she earns enough in this new venture to afford room and board. Along with the assistance of free meals, she is finally able to afford a minimal existence and survive.
Fighting back the urge to spoil the remainder of the film is no easy task! Entre Nos is a compelling film, and a must watch for any culture who can identify with or who wishes to identify with the hardships faced upon entering a foreign country. Although the dialogue is in Spanish, the subtitles make it an easy watch for English-speaking viewers as well. By tackling these and various other challenges that immigrants face, the film stands head and shoulders above others of this genre, like Los Que Se Quedan, and A Better Life, produced in 2009 and 2011 respectively, which tend to narrow their focus on distinctive subgroups and lack the universal appeal that Entre Nos intrinsically has. The addition of Mendoza and her riveting performance lend a fantastically personal touch to a film that is sure to grab and retain your attention. So cozy up, grab some popcorn and prepare to be engrossed. Warning: don’t forget the Kleenex tissue! If you have any heart at all, you’ll be sure to need it!
Luis Machuca is an English major at Lehman College with plans of becoming a vocational counselor. He enjoys raising his two children and taking advantage of New York City’s many historical sites in order to promote engaging educational opportunities for them.