SUN BELT EXPRESS – immigration, humor and corazón

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 4.31.07 PM

When I was contacted two years ago by producer Evan Buxbaum about his script for SUN BELT EXPRESS, I was hesitant. He wanted to make a film about undocumented immigrants that “could find some of the humor and light, in what is typically a very dark subject.” I asked myself, is that possible? Can one mix humor and such a serious topic?

In the end I agreed to be a beta-reader because Evan seemed very sincere and I thought it was wise of him to verify authenticity in the dialogue and seek opinions of those close to the topic at hand.

I read his script in its entirety and ended up loving it. Evan thanked me for the feedback and I hadn’t really thought much about his project since then, but this week Evan contacted me again – the film has been completed and will be premiering in the U.S. this October. (Check www.sunbeltexpressmovie.com for locations and dates.)

Today I had the opportunity to watch the full-length finished film and found it very much worth sharing with all of you. My review is below, but in short, I encourage you all to support the film and go see it if you’re able to. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

(Full disclosure: As stated, I was a beta-reader for the SUN BELT EXPRESS script and as such you can see my name in the film credits under general “thanks”, however this review reflects only my honest opinion.)

Review – SUN BELT EXPRESS

Allen King (Tate Donovan) is a divorced Ethics professor in southern Arizona who, accused of plagiarism and fired, is forced to commute daily to his new teaching job across the border in Mexico. The money he makes isn’t enough to keep up with his own bills or car maintenance, let alone meet the financial demands of his ex-wife (Rachel Harris) or pay his teenage daughter’s private school tuition. To supplement his income, Allen gets wrapped up in smuggling Mexican immigrants across the border in the trunk of his beat up 1972 Volvo.

Things get complicated when his teenage daughter (India Ennenga) mistakenly thinks her father is doing something altruistic and unexpectedly tags along for the ride. Add in a pregnant ex-girlfriend (Ana de la Reguera), three Mexican men in the trunk, two corrupt U.S. Border Patrol agents, and an overheated car that breaks down at the worst possible moment, and you have a situation that would seem to be no laughing matter – but that’s where you’d be wrong.

Mexicans have a dicho – “Al mal tiempo, buena cara” – which means put on a good face during bad times. Be positive; it’s an attitude shared by many Latin Americans. And while most films on immigration show the heartbreaking reality, the difficult choices made, the perilous journey – SUN BELT EXPRESS is a rare exploration into the humor of this mostly solemn situation.

Talk long enough to a person who immigrated illegally to the United States – more often than not, they will have a funny story or two to tell about their journey. My own husband has told me stories about a guy who accompanied him and carried a bottle of Pepto-Bismol like a hip flask which he regularly took sips from “to help with his nerves.” During another part of his journey, he wasn’t able to turn off a broken sink in a motel bathroom and chaos ensued.

For me, the brilliance of the film SUN BELT EXPRESS is found in moments like this. The dialogue between “passengers” Rafi and Miguel in the trunk is the main highlight. Rafi (Oscar Avila), who is somewhat fat, makes a stressful situation even more stressful for Miguel (Arturo Castro), who happens to be claustrophobic. If lack of space wasn’t enough of a problem, Rafi is quite generous with stories about all the adventures he’s had trying to cross the border before, although he’s only been caught “cinco, seis veces…o lo mucho siete.” The chemistry between these two actors is fantastic, and the friendship that blooms between them on screen made me smile as much as the well-acted humorous lines which are never crass but full of corazón.

SUN BELT EXPRESS contains plenty of entertainment in the form of humor, but it’s well-balanced by a bigger message. Serious themes including morality and political corruption are an essential part of the plot but the film never comes across as preachy. In the end, the deeply flawed protagonist redeems himself and the film succeeds at traversing the difficult border between heartfelt humor and hurtful ridicule when dealing with extremely sensitive subject matter. SUN BELT EXPRESS is a daring, fresh take on the immigration journey which is just as likely to spark important conversation as it is laughter.

Real Amas de Casa de Soyapango (y otros programas que quiero ver)

Image adapted from photo by Christian Dory/Wikipedia

Image adapted from photo by Christian Dory/Wikipedia

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Cuando compartí en Facebook la noticia de que va a salir un programa que se llama “Acapulco Shore” (basado en el famoso programa “Jersey Shore”), un amigo mío que se llama Jaime me dijo, sería mejor si hicieran un programa “Real Amas de Casa de Soyapango” (basado en el programa “Real Housewives of Orange County.”)

No soy fan de muchos programas de televisión, pero si tuvieran un “toque” salvadoreño, yo estaría mucho más interesada en verlos, entonces, se me occurió la idea de hacer esta lista.

Programas Populares (si los hubieran realizado en El Salvador)

En vez de Real Housewives of Orange County – Real Amas de Casa de Soyapango
En vez de Jersey Shore – La Libertad Shore
En vez de Law & Order: SVU – Ley & Orden: PNC
En vez de Iron Chef – La Mejor Pupusera
En vez de American Idol – Idol Salvadoreño (con jueces Álvaro Torres, Mr. Pelón 503 y Allison Iraheta)
En vez de America’s Got Talent – El Salvador Tiene Talento (con jueces Cocolito, La Tenchis, y Cipitío)
En vez de Keeping Up with the Kardashians – Mantenerse al Tanto con Los Pomas
En vez de Deadliest Catch – Los Pescadores Futbolistas
En vez de 19 Kids and Counting – 19 Primos y Contando
En vez de Pawn Stars – Mercado Central
En vez de Pit Bulls and Parolees – Chuchos Aguacateros y Mareros
En vez de Mad Money – Locas Remesas
En vez de America’s Secret Slang – Caliche
En vez de What Would You Do? – ¿Qué Harías Vos?
En vez de Ice Road Truckers – Microbúseros

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

When I shared on Facebook that a T.V. show called “Acapulco Shore” (based on the famous “Jersey Shore”) would be coming out, a friend of mine named Jaime commented that it would be better if they made a show called “Real Amas de Casa de Soyapango” (based on the show “Real Housewives of Orange County.”)

I’m not a fan of many T.V. shows but if they had a Salvadoran “twist”, I would be much more interested in watching them, so it occurred to me to make this list.

Popular T.V. programs (if they had been made in El Salvador)

Instead of Real Housewives of Orange County – Real Amas de Casa de Soyapango
Instead of Jersey Shore – La Libertad Shore
Instead of Law & Order: SVU – Ley & Orden: PNC
Instead of Iron Chef – La Mejor Pupusera
Instead of American Idol – Idol Salvadoreño (with judges Álvaro Torres, Mr. Pelón 503 y Allison Iraheta)
Instead of America’s Got Talent – El Salvador Tiene Talento (with judges Cocolito, La Tenchis, y Cipitío)
Instead of Keeping Up with the Kardashians – Mantenerse al Tanto con Los Pomas
Instead of Deadliest Catch – Los Pescadores Futbolistas
Instead of 19 Kids and Counting – 19 Primos y Contando
Instead of Pawn Stars – Mercado Central
Instead of Pit Bulls and Parolees – Chuchos Aguacateros y Mareros
Instead of Mad Money – Locas Remesas
Instead of America’s Secret Slang – Caliche
Instead of What Would You Do? – ¿Qué Harías Vos?
Instead of Ice Road Truckers – Microbúseros

Tienes un hijo salvadoreño si…

abuela-cookies-pupusas

Today is Spanish Friday so this post is in Spanish. If you participated in Spanish Friday on your own blog, leave your link in comments. Scroll down for English translation!

Hay muchas señales que uno está criando un hijo salvadoreño en los Estados Unidos, (aquí hay 15!) pero el fin de semana pasado, mi hijo menor me hizo reír mucho con un comentario que reveló cómo muy salvadoreño que es.

Mi hijo mayor trabaja en un museo para niños y él trajo a casa un papel con actividades para niños por su hermanito, (aunque su hermanito ya es demasiado mayor para este tipo de actividades.) En el papel hay fáciles crucigramas y cosas así. En una parte del papel hay un dibujo de una abuela con un plato de galletas, y el niño debe completar un laberinto para que la abuela puede traer las galletas a sus nietos, (o algo así.)

Sin leerlo, mi hijo menor me mostró el dibujo y me dijo, “Mira, qué gran plato de pupusas tiene la abuela.”

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

There are a lot of signs that you’re raising a Salvadoran child in the United States, (here are 15!) but this past weekend, my younger son made me laugh a lot with a comment he made which revealed how very Salvadoran he is.

My older son works at a children’s museum and he brought home an activity sheet for kids to give to his little brother, (even though his little brother is already too old for these types of activities.) On the activity sheet there are easy crossword puzzles and things like that. On one part of the paper, there’s a drawing of a grandmother holding a plate of cookies, and the child is supposed to complete a maze so the grandmother can bring the cookies to her grandchildren, (or something like that.)

Without reading it, my younger son showed me the drawing and said, “Look, what a big plate of pupusas the grandmother has.”

On Fictional Immigrants, Accents & Why We Like What We Like

I’ve mentioned my love for Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) and his accent, on more than one occasion, but yesterday a thought occurred to me – a sort of, “Which came first? The chicken or the egg?” sort of question. I wondered, was it already pre-programmed within me to like accents and Ricky Ricardo just happened to be the first to ignite it? – Or was there something about Ricky Ricardo that created a preference for that specific quality?

Whether it’s accents or ice cream flavors, who can really say why we like what we like? Maybe a psychologist or brain specialist of some sort would be able to explain this better – I’m not really prepared to delve into that today, or probably ever.

What I do want to talk about are fictional immigrants in film and television, as well as actors putting on an accent which is not native to them, because these are stories and characters I’m very often drawn to. There’s a fine line between creating an authentic character and one that reinforces stereotypes, but I’ve had some favorites over the years. Here they are in no particular order.

Actor Bronson Pinchot played the very loveable Balki Bartokomous on the sitcom Perfect Strangers. Balki was supposed to be from a fictional island in the Mediterranean Sea called Mypos. Pinchot is an American actor born in New York.

Actor Tom Hanks played Viktor Navorski of the fictional country Krakozhia in the movie, The Terminal. Tom Hanks was originally born in California, and you probably already know what his regular speaking voice sounds like.

Actor Adhir Kalyan played Raja Musharaff, a Pakistani exchange student sent to live with a family in Wisconsin on the TV show Aliens in America. In real life, Adhir Kalyan was born in South Africa and speaks with a lovely South African accent.

Actor Naveen Andrews played Sayid Jarrah, an Iraqi character on the TV show LOST. Andrews was actually born in London, England and is of Indian heritage. His regular speaking voice is with a British accent.

Can you think of other actors who played characters from fictional countries or who put on an accent that wasn’t their own?

A Sweet Game

BY TRACY LÓPEZ
(This was originally published on the now defunct CafeMagazine.com on June 14, 2010. Since this piece is no longer available online, I thought it would be fun to reprint it and take a look back at our familia during the 2010 World Cup.)

On Friday, my kids and I gathered around the television to watch the opening game of World Cup 2010, Mexico vs. South Africa.

I was rooting for Mexico, so naturally the kids were, too, (much to the annoyance of my Salvadoran mother-in-law who awakened to the entire household vested in green).

The kids really like fútbol but they have short attention spans, so to make it more exciting for them I promised candy at half-time – but this was not any ordinary candy. This was a mixed bag of “Dulces Mexicanos” from our local Latino market. Luckily my boys are pretty adventurous and were willing to give everything a try. Here is how they rated the Mexican candies, keeping in mind they’ve been raised on chocolate, butterscotch, jelly beans and other traditional U.S. candies. The candies are rated from one star (yucky-face inducing) to five stars (they’d eat the whole bag if I let them):

boycandy

Coconut “banderitas”: The tri-colored green, white and red Mexican flags were pretty to look at and tasted almost as good. Rating: ***

De La Rosa Dulce de Cacahuate: To be fair, I buy these all the time and am slightly addicted, so this candy is very familiar to the boys. They rated it highly and licked the crumbs from the wrapper. Rating: *****

Pica Pepino Relleno con Chile (lollipop): My younger son took one lick and rejected it. The older one took a few licks and ultimately agreed. I thought it was kind of interesting though. Rating: **

Duvalín Dulce Cremoso Sabor Avellana y Vainilla:
My husband really likes these, but the kids weren’t that impressed. Rating: **

Go Mango Enchilado: I think the boys were more put off by the way this one looked than the way it tasted. They barely gave it a nibble. To me it tasted like a slightly spicy fruit snack. Rating: *

Obleas con Cajeta: How can cajeta possibly not taste good? Yet, they didn’t like this one. Rating: *

Eskandalosos Paleta de Caramelo con Chile: I thought they would reject this one immediately but they loved it. They were fruity flavored with just enough spice to make them interesting. Rating: *****

Benyrindo: Deceptively shaped like a Coca-Cola bottle, everyone was fine with this candy until biting into it and releasing the tamarindo flavored juices. Maybe you have to be raised eating tamarind to appreciate these sorts of things? Rating: *

Pica Limón: One child rated this highly and the other rated it low, yet they both kept trying it and laughing. I think the fun of this one is watching people’s reactions after eating it. Rating: ***

In the end, Mexico and South Africa tied 1-1, bitter disappointment for fans on both sides who wanted to see their team win, but my boys’ memories of the game are not bitter; they are sweet like cacahuate, sour like limón and spicy like chile.

¡Vamos USA!

USA-familia-2

Disclosure: This is a compensated campaign in collaboration with Crest® and Latina Bloggers Connect. All opinions are my own.

The tagline of Crest®’s current campaign is “Más lejos llega tu equipo, más cerca estás” and it’s totally true; with each game, our familia gets closer – not just physically during goal celebrations which turn into hugging-jumping-up-and-down-mini-fiestas, but we’ve had a great time bonding and creating traditions.

I always say I’m not superstitious, and I often tease Carlos because he’s very superstitious, but I have a few “traditions” which make me feel more confident about my team winning a game.

When Mexico was still in, my tradition was to put a can of sweet peas next to the television. My kids were confused the first time until I explained that in Spanish, sweet peas are called “chícharos” – and Chicharito’s nickname is “little pea.” Now it all made sense! (Well, sort of. It still might be a little weird.)

peas

When the US team plays, first of all, everyone in the family is required to wear their American flag T-shirt, (we still need to invest in the official jersey now that, thankfully, the team no longer looks like Where’s Waldo.)

Second, we eat hot dogs during every game the United States plays. I like to make my hot dogs sort of “Sonoran style” with a slice of bacon, mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, chopped tomato, onion and jalapeño on a bun which I toast for a few seconds on the comal. They’re delicious, but after eating them, your breath will be kicking.

After I finish my hot dogs I usually run off for a minute to brush my teeth, (and hope I don’t miss any of the action!) Since I signed up for this campaign, I bought Crest® Complete + Scope because I wanted to make sure it’s a good product, and that’s the toothpaste I’ve been using. It’s kind of awesome that it’s an “all in one” toothpaste. Not only does it whiten teeth, fight cavities, and prevent tartar, but it has mouthwash built right into it so you don’t knock out any of your family members yelling “¡GOOOOOOOOOOL!”

If you want to #CelebrateCloser and give Crest® Complete + Scope a try, here’s some coupons! (Click here!)

What are your family soccer traditions? How do you celebrate during fútbol games, and which teams are you cheering on? … We can’t wait for today’s game at our house. ¡Vamos USA!

20 Salvadoran Slang Phrases (in GIFs)

This Spanish Friday I’m going to do things a little differently than usual. Instead of a post in Spanish followed by the English translation, I decided we’d have a little fun and I could do a Salvadoran version of this Mexican slang post on Buzzfeed, complete with animated gifs. Note: Guatemalans and Hondurans may also use some of these words/phrases – and some are probably not appropriate to use around your abuela. ¿Listos? Here we go!

hola-beauty-queen

1. ¿Qué onda, bichos?
Rough English translation: What’s up, guys?

puchica2

2. ¡Púchica!
Rough English translation: Shoot! [Can also be used as a positive exclamation when impressed.]

hiju

3. ¡Hijueputa!
Rough English translation: Son of a bitch!

magico

4. Ta’ chivo, ¿vá?
Rough English translation: It’s cool, isn’t it?

cabal

5. Cabal.
Rough English translation: Exactly.

chucho2

6. El cipote está afuera juegando con en chucho.
Rough English translation: The kid is outside playing with the dog.

patas2

7. Tus patas están bien chucas porque no usaste chanclas.
Rough English translation: Your feet are really dirty because you didn’t use sandals.

ride

8. ¡Ey, chero! Dame un rai!
Rough English translation: Hey friend! Give me a ride!

nervioso

9. Me da nervios.
Rough English translation: It makes me nervous.

paja3

10. Pura paja habla esta maje.
Rough English translation: This idiot tells nothing but lies.

cipitio

11. ¡No seas bayunco!
Rough English translation: Don’t be goofy/stupid!

chindondo2

12. ¡Ay! Golpeaste. Por cierto vas a tener un chindondo.
Rough English translation: Ouch! You hit yourself. You’re going to have a bump for sure.

pisto

13. ¿Tienes el pisto de la cabuda?
Rough English translation: Do you have the cash from the lending circle?

paco-flores

14. ¿Dónde está el bolado?
Rough English translation: Where is the thing?

bolo

15. ¡Qué bien baila el bolo!
Rough English translation: How well that drunk dances!

pupusa-bailando

16. La fiesta estaba bien vergóna. Estaba toda la mara allí.
Rough English translation: The party was really awesome. The whole gang was there. [And by "gang", I mean group of friends, although "mara" can also refer to criminal gangs as well.]

caida

17. Jajaja, ¡te pelaste!
Rough English translation: Hahaha, you screwed up!

vaya-pues

18. Vaya pues.
Rough English translation: Okay then.

yuca

19. Está yuca.
Rough English translation: It’s difficult.

vos

20. Vos.
Rough English translation: You