If you’re looking for a high budget, high-profile cast documentary that exposes a novel human condition, then “A Day Without A Mexican” is not for you. The film, which was screened on the 5th and 6th of October at the Culver Center as part of the Mundos Alternos exhibition, was directed by Sergio Arau and uses comedy to bring to light the flaws of anti-immigration reformists in California. First released in theatres in 2004, the film gained attention for its political message, but still went on to be nominated for and win a series of awards, including Best Screenplay at Gramado Film Festival.
For starters, the film’s premise is in its title. With the onset of a pink fog that surrounds California comes the sudden disappearance of hundreds of thousands of Latinos, all gone without a trace. From what was expected to be no more than a simple absence, the golden state dulls as the economic and cultural strides wither as a result of the disappearances. The film then stretches this premise over the course of weeks. During this time, the population of California sees the grand importance of inviting hard-working Latinos into the state. “A Day Without A Mexican” takes seriously the position many conservatives would have when they wish for tighter restrictions on immigration. Only by presenting the film with a worst-case scenario through a sci-fi lens does it present the absurdity of radical anti-immigration positions.
Nowadays, cultural appropriation and social justice are more a hot-button issue than before, but the film still depicts struggles with personal identity, being the Other and interracial relationships. An allegedly Hispanic reporter in the film faces a self-reflective truth when coming to a realization that her true self is primarily Hispanic, placing transracialism in the discussion. She also faces opposition as the last Latina in California from some individuals who celebrate in the wake of the disappearances. Pondering her fate, she lives an uncertain life as the Other who does not fit into a new California. Another of the film’s plots revolves around a woman who misses her Mexican husband; looking for answers as to her lover’s disappearance, she must now deal with a demon of her own by facing her daughter’s identity. Lastly, a prominent weatherman goes missing and a female news reporter realizes her ill-conceived approach to the situation.
One of the film’s issues is how it conveyed its austere message. Brushing aside its grainy scenes and sometimes strange camera angles, the message was clear that a day without a Mexican would be catastrophic to all residents of California. However, the majority of the Hispanics that disappear in the film are of low-income, laborious backgrounds. Few Chicano professionals are shown before the audience and their impact is not seen as much as the impact of farm workers and service employees. It can come off somewhat undermining to Hispanics, from the mischaracterization of Chicanos selling oranges, working in landscaping and taking pick-up jobs outside hardware stores. On a positive remark, it may have been meant to depict the hardworking tenacity of today’s Latin American population, but the film’s focus leans toward low-skilled trade.
It also exaggeratingly mocks the attitudes that members of other races may have toward Hispanics. There are instances in which citizens are portrayed as immensely ignorant and nonchalant about 40 percent of the state’s population up and leaving. Given that the film’s release was in 2004, it may just well be that the film has aged poorly and, fortunately for California, citizens are more aware of the economic powerhouse California is thanks to its high-technology focus and agriculture, of which both have an impressive Hispanic presence. Had the characters been more aware of the severe consequences that can come about from a missing Hispanic population, maybe then could they be more believable in their approach to anti-immigration.
There was, however, a nod to one of the many fields of professions Hispanics bring about. For example, one of the main characters, the Senator, has to take up the role of acting Governor, whilst the second in charge has disappeared alongside with the rest of the Hispanics. A news reporter also grieves at the loss of the Hispanic weatherman, as she had treated him as an adventurous sexual escape; therein lies an interesting comment on the approach some individuals have on Hispanic men and women. Toward the end of the film, famous Hispanic inventors are also celebrated and honored for their contributions to society. Furthermore, the protagonist of most of the film is a self-aware Latina news reporter that rises above adversity by overcoming discrimination and bettering relationships between communities.
If “A Day Without A Mexican” can apply in any way today, it would definitely seek to expose the absurdity of some arguments made against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) such as the outlandish statements on Chicanos and Latinos not contributing enough versus the amount they take from the state. Future generations are now impacted by false clauses and politics that were beyond their control.