Films reflect real life, educate us on notable people and their stories, and entertain. A handful of films even represent the complexities of the Chicanx experience. How Chicanos, especially in border towns, straddled the United States and Mexico and find a balance (or struggle to) between Mexican and American cultures.
These 13 films offer an important look at Chicanx identity. They’re great to watch to learn more about Chicanos, the discrimination they have had to face, and how they created their own unique culture over time.
The Lash (1930)
1930 film, The Lash, focuses on Francisco Delfino, a man from who goes to school in Mexico and returns to his home in Southern California around 1850, to find the U.S. has taken control of the land. Seeing that his family’s land is in danger of being stolen, and injustice is ensuing, Delfino becomes a Robin Hood-type character to right the wrongs.
Salt of the Earth (1954 film)
Salt of the Earth takes place in a zinc mine in New Mexico. It shows a mostly-Chicano union going on strike (based on a real 1950-1952 strike in the state), to end discriminatory working conditions, and receive the same wages the white workers received. The men’s wives decide to also join in on the fight.
Chulas fronteras (1976)
Chulas fronteras is a 1976 documentary about Tex-Mex norteño/conjunto music. The songs serve as a protest against unfair treatment, and speak to the Chicanx experience.
Please, Don’t Bury Me Alive! (1976)
Please, Don’t Bury Me Alive! also came out in 1976. Considered to be the first Chicano feature film, it followed a Chicano man in 1972 South Texas, during the Chicano Movement.
Raices de sangre (1978)
Raices de Sangre is another film focusing on labor tensions, this time between Chicano and Mexican workers. The setting this time is Socorro, Texas.
Del mero corazon (1979)
Another Chicanx music documentary, from the creator of Chulas fronteras (Les Blank) is Del mero corazon. The 1979 film takes a look at Tex-Mex norteña love songs.
Seguin tells the tale of the real-life Juan Seguin, a Tejano Chicano hero who defended the Alamo and became Texas Senator and mayor of San Antonio (twice). He believed Texas was for everyone, but discrimination made him move to Mexico, where he was coerced to fight for the Mexican side. Seguin movie was filmed in Bracketville, Texas.
The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982)
Edward James Olmos produced and starred in 1982’s The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez. The real life Gregorio was a Mexican-American tenant farmer, who shot and killed two Texas sheriffs in self defense, and fled to Laredo, Texas. He avoided capture (while hundreds of men looking for him), for 10 days, becoming a folk legend (who was eventually exonerated).
La Boda: The Wedding (2000)
Filmed in Nuevo Leon, Mexico, in Mission, Texas and Shafter, California, La Boda is a documentary that follows the wedding of Elizabeth and Artemio in Nuevo Leon, Mexico. Viewers get to see migrant life, and the balance of two cultures, as Elizabeth and her family travel between Mexico, Texas, and California.
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005)
In The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, a man keeps the promise he made to his friend to bury him in Mexico. The story was inspired by the murder of 18-year-old Esequiel Hernandez Jr., by U.S. Marines, near the Texas-Mexico border.
The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez (2007)
The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez is a documentary that looks into the shooting death of a young man by the United States Marines, near the Texas-Mexico border. The Marines had been patrolling the border, and mistook the young man for a drug runner.
Inside America (2010)
Inside America is a film about six high school teens living near the border. While following the “American Dream,” they face struggles, and life between two cultures.
Las Marthas (2013)
Las Marthas is a documentary following young women in Laredo, Texas, as they prepare for their debutante ball. The majority of girls are Latinas, yet dress like Martha Washington at a colonial ball celebrating George Washington’s birthday. The film showcases how two different cultures come together in the Texas border town.