To say that films have formed an important part of my life is an understatement. The movies I grew up watching were vehicles through which I navigated and made sense of the world around me. They have made lasting impressions on me that make me go back to them time and time again. The cartoons I watched as a child made my imagination and creativity go through the roof as I made up my own storylines and acted them out. As I started gaining a sense of self, everything I watched worked to help me piece together who I was or who I could be. With that said, as I reflect on all of the movies I’ve watched there are a few that I look back on with nostalgia, not just longing for the feeling I got when I first saw them but for how represented I felt in seeing parts of myself on the screen.
Among Los Tigres del Norte and Los Bukis, we had a white and gold floral CD of Selena’s greatest hits that we played on repeat on the stereo on Saturday mornings. The love for the Queen of Tejano was abundant at my house so it’s no surprise that one of my earliest memories is watching Selena. Being no more than five years old watching the fictionalized story of Selena Quintanilla-Perez, it was endearing to see a family similar to mine on screen. Her dad was a musician who played his guitar and sang around the house just like my father. Although I had nowhere near the talent she did, I had immense love and appreciation for music, specifically for cumbias, which was further cemented by the film and by her.
Even though the movie wasn’t my first exposure to Selena, it was my first time seeing the magnitude of her as an artist and role model to girls like me. Besides her music, I had no knowledge of her life or that it had ended. As the film moves along, especially watching it for the first time, scene after scene you cannot help but fall in love with Selena. Her optimism and passion were qualities that even as a child I knew that I wanted to see in myself, I wanted to be just like her. I was one of many girls doing the “washing machine” at home and reenacting the Astrodome disco medley. By the end of the film, I found myself mourning an artist that was at her peak before I had even been born. Since that first time, I have continued to watch it and each time it creates the same comfort and emotion that keeps me coming back.
As I grew older, I no longer sought after idols or role models to aspire to be like, I wanted to see myself and watch storylines develop on the big screen that resembled experiences I have had. As I went through any and all coming-of-age films that came my way—searching for a connection bound by cultural ties—I found what I was looking for in Patricia Cardoso’s Real Women Have Curves.
Real Women Have Curves is another film that I will never stop talking about for as long as I live. It was the exact kind of film that I had wished for in high school but watching it as an adult turned out to be the time when I needed it the most. I first watched it during a remote Chicano film class, the summer before I was to move out to LA following more than a year in quarantine. I spent a lot of time alone thinking while in quarantine and toward the end, I started making sense of the relationships I had with my family and friends, especially my mother.
One scene in particular that I understood through and through was when Carmen (played by Lupe Ontiveros) told Ana (played by America Ferrera)—as they walked down the street—to “walk like a lady” and she did so mockingly so as to poke fun at her mom. This scene, as small as it was, was such an accurate representation of how my mom and I interact on a day-to-day basis. Similar to Ana, I have been told time and time again to correct my behavior; to behave “como una señorita”. The way she mocked her mother’s more feminine mannerisms to give her what she asked is something I have done myself to my mom if we start arguing as a means to ease the tension through banter and humor.
With the film, I felt a sense of validation through the portrayal of a Mexican-American girl who had a difficult relationship with her mother. Their arguments about sexuality felt straight out of the four walls of my house, the push and pull about attending college far away mirrored my senior year of high school, and the discussions regarding weight and bodies were ones I had formed part of for years.
The character of Ana made me feel seen as being the rebellious one in the family. I was always outspoken at home whenever I saw myself being treated differently than my brothers or if there were instances where patriarchal standards were upheld by my parents. In turn, I was often made to feel as though I was being overly dramatic for feeling so strongly about my views in a way that I also saw Ana being treated. She was always questioned for not being more accommodating to what was asked of her, but in being accommodating she wouldn’t be authentic to who she is which is what I struggled to explain to my own mother. This film was affirming in that being confrontational or standing up for yourself to your parents does not equate to rude behavior, because disagreements are bound to happen in parent-child relationships.
Films have been a way for me to see myself and see my relationships on the screen. Since I was a child, they have been my way of forming a timeline of my life based on what I was watching at the time. Through them, I have felt accompanied when alone and understood when misunderstood. As more Latinx-centered films and television shows come along, ties will continue to form between myself and these characters and storylines helping me not only feel seen but understood.