Politics & Policy

A Day Without Misrepresentation?

Not if you're going to see A Day Without a Mexican.

If you live in New York, Chicago, Miami, San Antonio, or Austin, be forewarned: Hypocrisy and disinformation are coming to a theater near you.

#ad#A Day Without a Mexican, the “mockumentary” that has been playing since May in limited areas of California and Texas and in some southwestern cities since late August, is expanding to the east coast today. The film seeks to explain, with a sense of humor, “What would happen if one day, all Mexicans disappeared?”

Therein lies the movie’s first flaw–but there are many others. Mexican’s very premise–suddenly, a mysterious fog clears the state of all Hispanics, and anything remotely Latino–is alarmist, and based on stereotypes that equate reasoned support for stricter immigration control with irrational bigotry. In fact, the film itself is one long parade of stereotypes–ill informed and offensive, tired and trite.

“IT’S OUR COUNTRY”

In weaving these clichés, Mexican follows a few separate story lines. One belongs to State Senator Steven Abercrombie, a power-hungry nativist from a prestigious family. An aide captures the senator’s approach to Latinos: “Hating them got you senator; loving them will get you governor.” Absent is any principled opposition to illegal immigration; lacking is any acknowledgement that California’s–or America’s–politicians might want to crack down on illegals for the millions of dollars they drain from state and federal treasuries, or the security threat posed by open borders. Abercrombie, in other words, is no Tom Tancredo.

Abercrombie’s wife, Ellen, embodies another of the film’s stereotypes: the blonde, well-off California housewife unable to run a home without the Hispanic help. When Cata, the Abercrombies’ maid, disappears, Ellen wrinkles her nose distastefully at the prospect of doing laundry; she won’t lift a finger to feed her husband and daughter, instead tapping into the petty cash to send them out for food (burritos, naturally).

White helplessness is a dominant theme: Restaurant owners are thrown into a panic without dish washers; lawns go unmowed. When crops are rotting in fields and orchards for lack of Hispanics to harvest them, gringos are forced to pick up the slack–whiny, sweaty, and sunburned. The message? Whites can’t, and won’t, engage in physical labor.

The heaviest charges of laziness and incompetence, however, are reserved for the border patrol. In one scene they brutally round up frightened illegals, shoving weeping women and infants into vans with such roughness that a baby blanket is caught in a slammed door. One officer describes the border scene as a “goddamned third-world Olympics.”

Such brazen hostility to Mexicans is, the movie suggests, characteristic of all who oppose illegal immigration. The entire argument for tighter border control is distilled into activist George McClaire, who, as the lone representative of the anti-illegal-immigration movement, expresses its position thus: “We’re Americans simply defending our land and our values from those who would cross that border without permission. White people are disappearing, and it’s our country. . . . They steal–steal our way of life.” McClaire and his ilk don’t write op-eds or hold discussion panels: They host “It’s Our Country” barbecues to celebrate a Latino-free California.

In A Day Without a Mexican, los gringos (and los negros, caricatured with particular scorn) get short shrift. Latinos, naturally, are model citizens (or would be, were they actually citizens). Their chief representative in the film is Lila Rodriguez (played by co-writer Yareli Arizmendi). Rodriguez seeks employment as a “Latina reporter”; once she secures the job, she complains that she’s sent to cover only Latino-interest stories. Her boss is ignorant and exploitative: He urges, “Don’t Americanize the Spanish; let me hear the real deal, okay, let me hear the Latino sabor . . . Okay, comprenduh?” When Rodriguez seeks more general-interest assignments, he replies, “If it’s St. Patrick’s Day, I send O’Malley. If it’s Drinko de Mayo, I send RODRIGUEZ–you.” Rodriguez is the film’s barrier-breaker and crusader against Anglo ignorance and hate.

THE DOUBLE STANDARD

What the film does not acknowledge, however, is that many of those barriers are of Rodriguez’s–and the Latino community’s–own making. Hispanics gripe about being defined by ethnicity in professional settings, while Hispanic activists urge increased affirmative action–which makes getting a job in the first place ethnicity-dependent. Can whites be blamed for pigeonholing Latinos when, at universities across the land, Hispanic academics and students pigeonhole themselves into Chicano Studies departments and Hispanic cultural clubs? Throughout the film, several factoids are flashed across the screen; one says, “Every Hispanic on the West Coast is presumed to be Mexican.” (One of the film’s recurring gripes is that Latinos are not distinguished by nationality.) But when affirmative-action programs insist on giving students and prospective employees a leg up just for being “Latino”–or when Hispanics band together under umbrellas such as the National Council of La Raza–why should others make the country-by-country distinctions Hispanics themselves won’t?

These are not the only questions left unanswered by the film’s worn assertions. In contemplating what would happen were all Latinos suddenly to disappear, the film hammers home the positives that Hispanics contribute to California society. What it does not do, however, is take an honest look at the negatives–and what would happen if they also disappeared.

WORK AMERICANS WOULD DO, IF THEY HAD TO

First, from a labor standpoint: The “work Americans won’t do” motif is the centerpiece of Mexican, and when the people who will do that low-grade work all suddenly vanish, disaster ensues. It is estimated that there are ten to twelve million illegal aliens in the U.S.; roughly three million are expected to enter this year alone. Most of them are Hispanic, and most come to work. If that many laborers of any ethnicity, or any legal status, suddenly disappeared, of course havoc would follow: If everyone affiliated with the New York Stock Exchange suddenly disappeared, the impact would be catastrophic. (And that is work many Americans would be quite happy to do).

But society and the market adjust; the film does not acknowledge–as few who favor open borders do–that this work was done just fine before the illegal-immigrant wave. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies (also an NRO contributor), cites an example: A GAO study of office cleaning in southern California found that most of the people performing that particular job were middle-aged, unionized, married, black American men. It was stable, respectable lower-middle-class employment.

But as illegal immigration began to increase, office cleaning increasingly became the purview of illegals–displacing the African Americans who’d done it previously, and changing the nature of the job: into a low-wage, unstable form of employment. According to Krikorian, job categories that were filled by low-educated Americans are now colonized by immigrants. If, suddenly, all Latinos disappeared, would less-educated blacks step in? Would legal immigrants of other ethnicities? Would the jobs they vacated take on their former respectability, pay more, and be less exploitative?

These scenarios are speculative–but more likely than the prospect of whites’ breaking out in fistfights at the car wash because there are no Latinos to wax and polish. These possibilities are, however, untouched by Mexican (and the open-borders crowd).

What’s more, says Krikorian, “Many of the jobs illegal aliens in California do shouldn’t exist in a modern economy at all. A lot of the agricultural jobs would be eliminated by mechanization, if illegals weren’t there to fill them. The pace of harvest mechanization, for example, slowed to a halt when illegal immigration picked up.” He adds that “the presence of foreign workers creates different incentives: In the long run, this foreign labor pool isn’t even good for the industry.” Krikorian cites the 1960s’ Bracero program as an example.

In the absence of Latino workers, would American food output be more efficient? Again, speculation–but more likely than Mexican’s suggestion: sunburned suburbanites halfheartedly picking oranges, or orange-jumpsuited prisoners, imported as substitute labor, escaping their chain gangs and fleeing the orchards.

A DAY WITHOUT A MEXICAN IN JAIL

Speaking of the incarcerated: City Journal’s Heather Mac Donald documents how the Latino illegal-immigrant population has congealed into a new, crime-ridden underclass: hardly a realization of the American Dream. The film, however, fails to acknowledge this–there’s no day without a Mexican in jail. Says Mac Donald, “Gang crime is the one category of crime nationally that has shot up in recent years: 50 percent from 1999 to 2002, the last year for which statistics are available, and perhaps the most powerful force driving that increase is immigration.”

“As Hispanic immigration spreads across the East from the Southwest, many communities are experiencing serious gang crime for the first time,” she explains. “In Chicago’s barrios, the higher density of Spanish-speaking immigrants correlated over the last decade with increases in crime and social disorder. Many adults reported feeling like prisoners in their own homes; public space is now controlled by gangs.” She adds that, “in California in 1998, Hispanics were 30 percent of the state’s population, and 42 percent of new prison admits.” Mexican completely ignores the threat of the illegal-alien crime wave.

And when it comes to threats, another the film completely disregards is terrorism, and the danger open borders pose to national security. The film doesn’t show the Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security better able to keep out terrorists because they no longer have to track down illegal Latinos.

NO LAUGHING MATTER

That this irresponsible vision of a borderless utopia should dominate the film is no surprise, given who’s behind it. According to Arizmendi, A Day Without A Mexican was produced with financial assistance from the activist group No Borders and FIDECINE, a Mexican-government film fund. But even more troubling than who’s behind the movie is who’s for it: Arizmendi says that it received enthusiastic support from Los Angeles councilman and sometime mayoral candidate (and Democratic National Convention speaker) Antonio Villaraigosa, and that L.A. mayor James Hahn “has come forth and invited us to a big gathering.” These are not fringe activists: They are mainstream politicians, endorsing Mexican’s view of border security and Latino immigration.

It is easy to deflect these criticisms–and the film’s defenders do–by pointing out that Mexican is a comedy. And given the film’s low-budget graininess, and its disjointed, preposterous plot, it definitely draws laughs. But mirth is hardly its only objective: Mexican’s own website claims it is “a modern fable, lesson included.”

That lesson is a dangerous one, misguidedly presented. Talking to Arizmendi, one senses that she–and the others involved in the film–are sincere in their desire to “raise awareness and generate dialogue.” And insofar as immigration is woefully under-discussed by those who should be examining it most carefully, this is admirable. But it doesn’t do any good to have that discussion shaped by alarmism and misrepresentations, and built upon cheap racial stereotypes.

In this, A Day Without a Mexican fails both to educate and to entertain. Moviegoers looking for a good time would be better off skipping Illegal Aliens vs. America, and seeing if Alien vs. Predator is still playing instead.

Meghan Clyne is an NR associate editor.

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