For better or for worse, when many Americans think about Italian-Americans, they think of The Godfather. When it comes to Irish-Americans, it’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. And for Chinese-Americans, it’s The Joy Luck Club. The way people talk. The clothes they wear. The houses they live in. What makes them cry. Film has a way of making abstract identities vivid and tangible.
So what has the silver screen been communicating to Americans about the Mexican-American experience? Mexican-Americans make up one of the largest ethnic groups in the U.S. but only a handful of mainstream films focusing on Mexican-Americans have become household names—La Bamba, Selena, and Stand and Deliver, for instance, all of which came out in a 10-year span. But Mexican-Americans were present on-screen long before that moment and played a role in the off-screen American story for even longer. In advance of the event “How Do You Film the (Mexican) American Story?”, featuring La Bamba writer and director Luis Valdez and Selena producer Moctesuma Esparza, we asked film and art scholars: What are the most prominent and memorable on-screen moments in Hollywood history that tell us something about the experience of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the U.S.?