In honor of National Immigrant Heritage Month we’re celebrating immigrants and the contributions they’ve made to U.S. history and culture. Though we don’t often see ourselves reflected in Hollywood, when we do it makes us feel seen and validates our experiences. We all know we have a long way to go in terms of Latinx representation on screen. But starting in the ’80s and on, we’ve seen an incredible rise in films centering on the experiences of Latinx immigrants, putting our stories on the map and making them visible to the wider public. There are many that are hard but necessary to watch for how they comment on the brutality and horror of the U.S.-Mexico border and the U.S.’s inhumane immigration policies. But there are also more fun, family-friendly watches that are sure to bring a smile to your face. This is not an exhaustive list of these kinds of movies but a starting place as you embark on your celebratory film journey. Read on to learn more about 13 movies about the Latinx immigrant experience that you need to watch this month.
My Family (1995)
Starring several Latinx film legends like Jimmy Smits, Esai Morales, and Edward James Olmos, My Family follows three generations of a Mexican American family trying to build a life in East LA. We see the family matriarch José Sanchez immigrating from Mexico to the U.S. on foot for a year before marrying his wife María, who is illegally deported but returns to the States two years later. Later, their children and grandchildren struggle with police brutality, assimilation, acculturation, and their family’s complicated history. Through each generation, the immigration experience is changed and transformed but also seen and celebrated.
My Family is available to watch on Apple TV.
Under the Same Moon (2007)
Arguably one of the most beloved films about immigration today, Under the Same Moon starring Kate del Castillo and Eugenio Derbez shows the everyday struggle of those who are forced to live apart as a result of the immigration policies in the U.S. The film is about Rosario, a single mother who crosses the border, and her son Carlitos who she was forced to live behind in order to make a better life for them. Each night, she calls him at his grandmother’s house from a payphone until his grandmother passes away. Desperate to reunite with his mother, he embarks on a journey to cross the border, experiencing loss, growth, and new friends along the way.
Under the Same Moon is available to watch on Hulu.
Starring Gael García Bernal, Desierto tells the story of a group of migrant workers from Mexico who attempt to cross the border in search of a better life. Things immediately go wrong when the truck transporting them breaks down in the middle of the desert, forcing the group to travel on foot. Enduring heat, shooters, wounds, thirst, and starvation, Moises becomes one of two survivors of a shoot-out but is determined to make his way home back to his son, no matter what it may cost him.
Desierto is available to watch on Amazon Video.
Raising Victor Vargas (2002)
Raising Victor Vargas follows the titular character as he grows up on the Lower East Side with his family, including his grandmother, sister, and younger brother. Being a very cocky teenager, he’s used to winning over the hearts of the girls in his neighborhood. Until he meets Judy, a girl whose beauty forces her to put up guards with men, especially when she’s used to being followed and harassed. Despite this, they embark on a romance, transforming both of their lives forever.
Raising Victor Vargas is available to watch on Amazon Video.
Icebox follows Oscar, played by Anthony Gonzalez, a 12-year-old boy from Honduras who flees from his home country after being forced to join a gang and seek safety and asylum with his uncle in the U.S. As he’s on his way to cross the border in Arizona where his uncle lives, he’s arrested by Border Patrol, who place him in “the icebox,” a center for processing migrant children from Latin America. From there, he’s forced to navigate the immigration system on his own, from appearing in court to sleeping on floors. Thankfully, he has the help of a journalist, his uncle, and his friends in the icebox as his lifeline to survive.
Icebox is available to watch on Max.
Which Way Home (2009)
Which Way Home is a documentary film that follows six children making their way to the U.S. to reunite with their families, build a better life for their families back home, or find a family who will allow them to stay. Traveling from Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, the children face many dangers along the way including smugglers, dehydration, and risk of death riding a train known as “La Bestia” that travels from Chiapas, Mexico to the U.S. border. The award-winning film gives the immigration debate a personal, human perspective from unaccompanied migrant children.
Which Way Home is available to watch on Max.
El Norte (1983)
El Norte is a powerful film made up of three parts to show the difficulties and joys of migrating and building. a better life in a foreign country. The movie follows Rosa and Enrique, two Indigenous Mayans from Guatemala whose family is torn apart by union protests on a local coffee plantation, leaving their father murdered and their mother disappeared. From there, they’re forced to flee to seek safety in the U.S., making it to their new home after two attempts, only to find life more difficult than they could’ve imagined.
El Norte is available to watch on Amazon Video.
Sin Nombre (2009)
Sin Nombre follows two teenagers trying to cross the border into the U.S.: Sayra, a teen girl from Honduras and Willy, a boy trying to outrun the violence of gang life. After his girlfriend is killed by his gang’s leader, he accompanies the gang to the local train tracks where migrants are riding on top in hopes of crossing the border, including Sayra and her family. There, he protects Sayra from being raped and decides to ride the train as well, in hopes of seeking a different kind of life for himself.
Sin Nombre is available to watch on Apple TV.
The Perez Family (1995)
Starring Alfred Molina, Celia Cruz, and other A-list actors, The Perez Family follows two Cuban refugees in 1980s during the Mariel boatlift, both of whom happen to share the last name Perez: Juan Raúl Pérez, an ex-aristocrat and political prisoner hoping to reunite with his wife after twenty years, and Dottie Pérez, an ex-prostitute who Juan meets on the way. When they get mistaken for a married couple by U.S. Immigration, they decide to pretend to be a family in order to stay in the U.S., only for things to get complicated when they realize the potential for a real romance between them.
The Perez Family is available on Roku.
Entre Nos (2009)
Entre Nos is a semi-autobiographical film based on the real life of the mother of Paola Mendoza, who directs and stars in the film. The story follows Mariana, an immigrant from Colombia who travels to New York with her two children, one six-years-old and one ten, in order to reunite with her husband Antonio. But when he abruptly leaves for Miami, the rest of the family is forced to live on their own on the streets, doing whatever they can to survive.
Entre Nos is available to watch on Amazon Video.
Los Lobos (2019)
Los Lobos, or The Wolves, tells the story of Max and Leo, each 8 and 5 years old respectively, who immigrate to the U.S. with their mother. Living in a tiny apartment in Albuquerque, New Mexico, they wait every day for their mother to come back from work, holding on to the hope of visiting Disneyland someday.
Los Lobos is available to watch on iTunes.
Maria Full of Grace (2004)
Maria Full of Grace is a critically-acclaimed drama film following Maria Álvarez, a Colombian teen who works de-thorning roses at a flower plantation under poor conditions. Desperate to support her family and her unemployed, single sister, she stays on until her boss abuses her, and she becomes pregnant with her boyfriend’s child. In desperation, she becomes a drug mule for a trafficking ring alongside her best friend Bianca and along the way she faces trials and tribulations on her path toward finding freedom in the U.S.
Maria Full of Grace is available to watch on Max.
A Better Life (2011)
Starring Demián Bichir, A Better Life is about Carlos, a gardener and Mexican immigrant, and his teenage son Luis living together in East LA. While Carlos hunts down a truck that was stolen by his partner Blasco, Luis struggles with the pressure of joining a local gang, even getting suspended for assaulting a student. Along the way, they find ways to reconcile with each other’s differences, even with the threat of Carlos’s imminent deportation hanging in the air.
A Better Life is available to watch on Starz.