A border between them

April 11, 2008

Victor Fernandez reviews a movie about a Mexican immigrant family split apart.

UNDER THE Same Moon (La Misma Luna) follows the story of Carlitos, a 9-year-old Mexican immigrant who, after the death of his grandmother, sets out to cross the border to find his mother in Los Angeles.

During his journey, Carlitos learns about the harsh realities of immigrant life in the U.S. In making this movie, director Patricia Riggen gives a human face to the immigration issue, and particularly to the breakup of the family. The film shows with accuracy and honesty the emotionally challenging situation of a particular group of immigrants, single mothers who are forced leave their children behind in Mexico in order to be able to provide the opportunity of a better life for them.

Rosario, Carlitos' mother, works two jobs as a maid in Los Angeles while Carlitos is taken care of by his grandmother in Mexico. The director goes to great lengths to show the emotional toll that such an arrangement takes on both Carlitos and his mother. Rosario has not seen her son for four years and she can only talks to him once a week.

Both keep a calendar counting down the days when they can talk to each other. Carlitos resents his mother for what he sees as leaving him in Mexico to go to the United States. Throughout the movie, Rosario is preoccupied with just bringing her son over to the U.S., and Carlitos' whole motivation for risking his life and setting out on his journey is to be reunited with his mother.

The background to Under the Same Moon is that because she is illegal in this country, she is denied the basic right of being with her son, and her son is denied the basic right of seeing his mother. Thus, throughout the story, Rosario is always being forced to make a tough decision between seeing her son (going back to Mexico and not being able to come back) and working for a better life for him (staying in LA).

Her desperation to reconcile both leads her to the idea of marrying a friend only because he is legal in this country, even though she isn't interested in him. This unfortunately is the harsh reality most women in her position face. However, unlike the movie, the fiancé usually isn't a caring friend that is in love with her, but somebody eager to take advantage of someone in need, and usually for a price.

The movie uses this situation as a starting point to also talk about the broader issues that all immigrants face in the United States. For example, Rosario is shown getting up at the crack of dawn to wait for a bus. When she eventually boards the bus, it is to a voiceover of Cucuy, a Los Angeles radio DJ, talking about how Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has once again vetoed a law that would allow undocumented immigrants licenses.

In another scene, Rosario is fired from her housekeeping job without any warning. When she complains to her boss that she wants her pay for the half week she worked, her boss just tells her no and asks, "What are you going to do, call the police? Wait, I just remembered, you're an illegal. Not a good idea." Such abuse by employers is paralleled in another scene where Carlitos is helping migrant farmworkers pick tomatoes during his journey to Los Angeles, and witnesses the effects of pesticide poisoning on a fellow coworker.

DESPERATION IS a common theme that binds the many characters in this film, both documented and undocumented.

Carlitos is smuggled by college students who need to pay tuition. He is almost sold off to a drug dealer by a heroin addict. Rosario spends a good part of the movie going from house to house looking for a job. Carlitos and his friend Enrique end up working at a diner together but only sharing the wages of one worker, at a place that didn't bat an eye at hiring a 9-year-old.

Yet among such despair, the movie also portrays the immense solidarity among groups of people who face a common oppression. Various times throughout his journey, Carlitos is helped by perfect strangers, whether it is by a woman who helps house undocumented workers, or traveling musicians portrayed by Los Tigres Del Norte who give him a ride, or other fellow undocumented travelers willing to lend a helping hand to Carlitos because, in his struggle, they see their own.

Like the struggle of Elvira Arellano, an undocumented immigrant who fought to stay in the U.S. to care for her son, La Misma Luna puts a human face to the debate over immigration. It also blends the various seemingly complex aspects of immigration--licenses, human trafficking, splitting of families and abuses at the workplace--and shows how they affect the day-to-day lives of undocumented immigrants.

When people can see the experiences of undocumented immigrants in these terms, the right-wing ideas that seek to paint all immigrants as terrorists, drug traffickers or by other racist stereotypes seem to fall by the wayside.

A movie like this is good at showing the real face of the undocumented as people struggling to make ends meet and provide a future for their kids under the immense obstacles of our nation's backward immigration laws and a system that is willing to separate families and destroy lives just for a quick buck.

In the end, Carlitos learns through his journey about how rough it is to live through what his mother had to go through for him and he loses his initial resentment of his mother. His friend Enrique puts it best, "Nobody chooses to live like this, unless they have a good reason. I'm sure for her, you're a good reason."

E-mail alerts

Further Reading

Latest Stories

From the archives