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

La Vida Puede Ser Simple

Monica-Giraldo

Disclosure: Latinaish.com has partnered with Cricket Wireless as a 2014 Blog Ambassador. All opinions are my own.

Perhaps it’s a normal progression, but I find that as I’m getting older the “get the party started” type of songs just sound… loud. There are still days when that’s the sort of mood I’m in and those songs are appropriate, but more and more often I’m seeking quiet yet happy songs, and when I find an entire album that is suitably quiet yet happy, I get really excited.

On the unlimited music service called Muve Music, which I have with my Cricket Wireless plan, I’ve been fortunate to find some new music I may never otherwise have discovered, which includes my new favorite quiet yet happy album at the moment by a Colombian singer named Mónica Giraldo. If I had to describe her music, the vocal qualities are a mix of Shakira and Sarah McLaughlin, while the sound reminds me very much of quieter songs by Brazilian group Kid Abelha. Sound perfect? Check out Mónica Giraldo’s album, Todo Da Vueltas on Muve Music. Here’s my favorite song on the album, “La Vida Puede Ser Simple.” I really love the lyrics.

If you love it, you can check out her other albums on her website, including her newest, Que Venga la Vida.

For more from Cricket Wireless ambassadors, follow the #VidaConCricket hashtag and @MiCricket on Twitter. Note: If you are not currently a Cricket Wireless customer and wish to sign up with Cricket, due to the AT&T buyout Muve Music may not come with your device. You can read more about that here. When I have more information about what music options new Cricket customers will have, I’ll be sure to let you all know!

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?

¡Sonríe!

smiles-are-universal

Disclosure: Latinaish.com has partnered with Cricket Wireless as a 2014 Blog Ambassador. All opinions are my own.

I can’t resist any sort of “random acts of kindness”/”pay it forward” love-spreading-movement, so when I found out Cricket Wireless started #MissionSmile, I was totally in.

#MissionSmile is simply a mission to make others smile. That’s it! It can be an act as small as sharing a photo of your cute perrito on social media, or as big as paying for all the groceries of the person behind you in line at the store.

Here are a few things I’d like to do:

1. Hold a sign that says “Abrazos Gratis” and give away free hugs.
2. Smile at every stranger I encounter and see how many smile back.
3. Visit the dogs and cats at the Humane Society and spend time playing with them.
4. Give any overabundance from my garden to a neighbor.
5. Buy diverse children’s books and books in Spanish for my local Head Start program.

How about you? Which good deeds do you like to do? How will you make others smile?

For more from Cricket Wireless ambassadors, follow the #VidaConCricket hashtag and @MiCricket on Twitter.

Cabalito: An interview with aspiring Salvadoran restaurant owner, Randy Rodriguez

Randy-Rodriguez

I receive at least one request per week from random strangers to support their Kickstarter campaigns but recently I was contacted by a guy named Randy Rodriguez who said he wanted to open a Salvadoran restaurant. For obvious reasons this interested me much more than any other Kickstarter campaign sent to me before, so I got to chatting with Randy, and I ended up deciding to not only give his Kickstarter a shoutout, but because I found his personal story interesting as a Salvadoran American born in L.A., raised in Vermont, and now living in New York, I interviewed him as well. Meet Randy, and his project – a Salvadoran restaurant in Lower Manhattan called “Cabalito.”

Interview with Randy Rodriguez of “Cabalito”

Latinaish: Tell us a bit about your family. Your parents were born and raised in El Salvador, right? Did your mother and tías cook much Salvadoran food when you were growing up?

Randy: Yes, both my parents were born and raised in El Salvador. I am 100% My mom came in her late teenage years and my dad when he was around 13 years old. My parents both have very interesting stories coming to the U.S., (which is a whole other story!) Neither my mom or dad know how to make pupusas but a few of my tías know how to do it up. My grandma makes a mean panes con pavo (which will be on the menu.) My mom can also make the plato típico, but for the most part, I ate most Salvadorian food at the best restaurants in L.A.

Latinaish: You mentioned to me that when you were about 10 years old, your family picked up and moved to Vermont. Why did your parents move there? Was it difficult to adjust? Were there unique challenges as a Salvadoran American growing up in an area of the country that doesn’t have a strong Salvadoran or Latino community?

Randy: Yes, I was around 10 years old when my parents moved to Vermont. They wanted us to have a better childhood. Living in a peaceful countryside was the plan. The L.A. neighborhood I was living in was getting dangerous. They did research and heard that Vermont was one of the best places to raise a family. My dad told us that if he was going to move he would do a big move. So we went for a big change, west coast to east coast.

I think it was a very difficult adjustment. I have an older brother and a younger sister. We had to make new friends and start over which can be hard at that age. I look back now and I don’t know how we did it! I went from being just another latino to the only kid in my school with color! I stood out like a sore thumb. I was different. The kids in my school were nice. I didn’t have any problems which I am thankful for. It was more about how uneducated they were about my culture. They didn’t know anything about Latin American food, dance, culture, or language. They thought I was Mexican! Not because they were mean but because they didn’t know better.

Latinaish: Now this question is definitely out of personal curiosity as a mother raising 2 Salvadoran American sons who are bilingual, but not quite as fluently bilingual as I had hoped. You learned Spanish as an adult – Did your parents attempt to raise you bilingually or did they speak to you in English? Did you grow up with Spanish around you (when your parents spoke to each other or on the phone, or the TV programs they watched)?

Randy: I heard the language a lot when I was young in California. Once I moved to Vermont I stopped hearing it. There was no Spanish television shows, music, or anything around like that. My parents did not make the effort to make us learn. I think it was mainly because my brother and sister didn’t really want to learn. They tried but never fully committed. I think it was hard for my parents because they came to the USA very young. My dad has told me he feels more comfortable in English. They told us that if we wanted to learn it we would have to take the initiative. That’s exactly what I did. Obviously my Spanish is not perfect and I am still learning but I am doing the best I can because I realize it’s important as an adult to be bilingual.

Latinaish: At some point you moved to NYC and began working at Mexican restaurants, right? What was that like? Was a career in the restaurant business something you’d always wanted or something you fell into?

Randy: I moved to NYC in 2010 and I simply needed to find a job. The only job I could find was at an Indian restaurant. It was terrible – it didn’t pay well – but I needed the money. The restaurant was next door to a Mexican place. I met the manager and he eventually called me in to start working. I was happy to be working there. It paid well and I needed to make friends. I worked my way up to be the general manager. That’s when I really grew to love the industry. I started to work a lot and I felt I was running the place myself. I eventually told the staff to stop speaking to me in English. I learned a lot of Spanish from my friends there. I believed in the place and put my time and energy into it. They eventually opened a new location and they wanted to hire someone else with more experience to take my job. I realize now that I was young and someone with more experience could run the place better. I left and started to work at a wine bar and the owner there inspired me to open my own place. That’s when I wrote my business plan.

To answer the question simply. I fell into the business with no regrets.

Latinaish: When was it that you decided you wanted to have your own restaurant? Why a Salvadoran restaurant?

Randy: At the Mexican restaurant my co-workers would tell me that I should open up my own taqueria since I know how to run one. I felt that there is a lot more competition in Mexican food. People have a strong opinion about Mexican food. So many types from tex mex, taco trucks, west coast Mexican, Chipotle, and the list goes on. I did not want to get involved. When I left and started working for a wine bar, the owner motivated me to do something big. A lot of self reflection and thought went into the idea for my own place. The fact that almost no one in NYC has had pupusas made all the pieces come together.

cabalito

Latinaish: How did you come up with the name “Cabalito”? Who designed that awesome bird logo? (I love it! It’s very Fernando Llort-esque.)

Randy: The original name was “El Colón” after the currency of El Salvador from 1892 to 2001. I wanted “El Colón” because it would represent how El Salvador is becoming more and more Americanized. I wanted people to know and remember how El Salvador use to be when it had it’s own currency and to embrace that. However, I did not want to glorify Cristóbal Colón. I also considered that people might mispronounce it and call it colon from human anatomy or colon from punctuation.

After days of brainstorming I was looking over all the slangs from El Salvador. I was also hanging about with a friend born in El Salvador and she was using the word “Cabal” a lot. I liked it. I felt that you could use it for many things. However, I did not click with it because cabal in English is a secret political clique or faction. I read an article with someone using “Cabalito.” That was it! It sounded more Spanish, more official, more on point. “Cabalito!”

My logo was designed by my roommate who is a very talented graphic designer. I showed him art work by Fernando Llort and told him how much I liked his birds. I obviously wanted the logo to be very clear on representing art work in El Salvador. He did some sketches and surprisingly that was the first one he drew of many. We didn’t need to play around with it. That was it! Cabal!

Latinaish: Are you hiring Salvadoran chefs or did you learn to make the food? What’s going to be on the menu?

Randy: I want to hire authentic chefs I can work with to create traditional dishes with a twist. I care a lot about being authentic, however, I want to evolve the traditional recipes to the New York tongue. I am very aware of people being more careful of what they put into their bodies. I want to adapt to the new way of eating without damaging the original recipes.

I have a lot of traditional dishes that I would like to put on the menu but for now I’ve limited it to a few that I think would be diverse enough and affordable. The menu I have ready for Kickstarter is not going to be exactly the same as the menu that will be used for the restaurant. I made a mock up menu to give people an idea of my vision and to understand the brand I want to create. I will later work with a chef to discuss my menu and his/her recipes that will work for the official menu.

Randy-Rodriguez-pupusas

Latinaish: Okay – the big moment! Sell us on contributing to your Kickstarter campaign. Why should we support this project?

Randy: I want people to know that this is my dream. I hope this becomes a story that people will read and feel inspired. I believe that if you can shape it in your mind you will find it in your life. The restaurant represents so much to me. It’s a reflection of myself. It’s more than amazing food. It’s culture, it’s music, it’s art, it’s style, it’s social, it’s Latin American, it’s flavor, it’s affordable, it’s friendship, it’s different, it’s – more importantly – for everyone to enjoy. I hope anyone who comes from little corners of the world will have the courage to share their culture if they want to. This restaurant is for all the hidden recipes all over the world that are not exposed to us because the people who open restaurants don’t typically know how to. The people who should open restaurants don’t have the money to. Unfortunately money is the only thing holding me back from sharing this cuisine with New York City. So anything helps or share this info with everyone! This restaurant is also for El Salvador – a small country with a big heart.

(Visit the Kickstarter campaign here!)

Latinaish: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions. Wishing you suerte!

Randy: Special thanks to you, Tracy. I wish you and your family the best. May you continue to give El Salvador a good name. It would be an honor to someday see you in NYC with your family at Cabalito.

You can follow Randy and his restaurant, Cabalito, on: Twitter, Facebook, and at CabalitoNYC.com.

Escribiendo Baladas

letra

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!

El otro día, a las 4:30 de la mañana, no podía dormir. Mientras todavía estaba en la cama, cogí un cuaderno y una pluma de mi escritorio con la intención de escribir. Tuve en mente trabajar en mi manuscrito corriente pero cuando puse pluma a papel, una canción salió.

Cada día escucho música, y usualmente es Regional Mexicano. Me gusta la música de Gerardo Ortiz, El Bebeto, Roberto Tapia, La Arrolladora Banda el Limón, Voz de Mando, Banda el Recodo, y tantos otros, pero más que todos – ya saben – Mi cantante favorito es Espinoza Paz. Lo que algunas personas no saben es que Espinoza Paz es un compositor, no sólo para sí mismo, sino para muchos artistas que terminan teniendo un gran éxito con sus canciones. Realmente admiro su habilidad con las palabras.

De todos modos, no me sorprende mucho que todos estos años de escuchar la música Regional Mexicano finalmente resultó en escribir una canción. Qué pena que no sé como escribir la música para acompañar la letra.

He escrito poesía, pero creo que esta es mi primera canción en este género, (¡y en mi segunda lengua!) Espero que más canciones me vienen porque fue divertido escribirla. Sería increíble escuchar a alguien cantandola algún día, pero por ahora, aquí está.

PD – Gracias a Dios, esta canción no tiene nada que ver conmigo y con Carlos! Todo está bien con nosotros!

PERDONAR Y PERDONAR
por Tracy López

No es fácil,
perdonar y perdonar,
pero una vida sin ti,
no me puedo imaginar.

Me duele cuando me trates así,
Me rompes el corazón,
pero más me duele vivir,
con una mala decisión.

[CORO:

No me ruegues más,
Todavia te quiero,
Ya se me olvidó,
lo que pasó.

Ya sé que eres humano,
Y los humanos a veces se equivocan,
pero ya lloré suficientes lágrimas,
y siempre eres tú que las provocan.]

No es fácil,
perdonar y perdonar,
pero ni un día sin ti,
me puedo imaginar.

Me duele cuando me decepcionas,
me rompes el corazón,
pero más me duele existir,
con esta maldición.

-REPETIR CORO-

No es fácil,
perdonar y perdonar,
Seguir dejándote maltratarme,
no me puedo imaginar.

Me duele decirte adiós,
lo siento, mi corazón,
pero más me duele aguantar,
una mala decisión.

2nd CORO:

No me ruegues más,
Todavia te quiero,
pero no se me olvidó,
lo que pasó.

Ya sé que eres humano,
Y los humanos a veces se equivocan,
pero ya lloré suficientes lágrimas,
y siempre eres tú que las provocan.

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

That other day at 4:30 in the morning, I couldn’t sleep. While still in bed, I grabbed a notebook and pen off my nearby desk with the intention of writing. I had in mind to work on my current manuscript but when I put pen to paper, out came a song.

Each day I listen to music, and usually it’s Regional Mexican. I like the music of Gerardo Ortiz, El Bebeto, Roberto Tapia, La Arrolladora Banda el Limón, Voz de Mando, Banda el Recodo, and so many other, but more than all of them – you already know – My favorite singer is Espinoza Paz. What some people don’t know is that Espinoza Paz is a composer, not only for himself, but for many artists who end up having great success with his songs. I really admire his ability with words.

Anyway, it doesn’t surprise me much that all these years of listening to Regional Mexican music finally resulted in writing a song. It’s just a shame that I can’t write music to accompany the lyrics.

I’ve written poetry, but I believe this is my first song in this genre, (and in my second language!) I hope more songs come to me because it was fun to write. It would be amazing to hear someone sing it someday, but for now, here it is.

PS – Thank God, this song has nothing to do with me and Carlos! Everything is good with us!

[Note: I translated the song to English below but I think it loses it’s charm. If you read/understand Spanish, I recommend you scroll back to the original Spanish version above.]

FORGIVE AND FORGIVE
by Tracy López

It’s not easy,
to forgive and forgive,
but a life without you,
I can’t imagine.

It hurts me when you treat me this way,
You break my heart,
but it would hurt me more,
to live with a bad decision.

[CHORUS:

Don’t keep begging me,
I already love you,
I’ve already forgotten,
what happened.

I know that you’re human,
and humans make mistakes,
but I’ve cried enough tears,
and you’re always the one that causes them.]

It’s not easy,
to forgive and forgive,
but even a day without you,
I can’t imagine.

It hurts me when you disappoint me,
You break my heart,
but it would hurt me more to exist,
with this curse.

-REPEAT CHORUS-

It isn’t easy,
to forgive and forgive,
Allowing you to keep mistreating me,
I can’t imagine.

It hurts me to tell you goodbye,
I’m sorry, my heart,
but it hurts me more to endure,
a bad decision.

2nd CHORUS:

Don’t keep begging me,
I already love you,
but I don’t forget,
what happened.

I know that you’re human,
and humans make mistakes,
but I’ve cried enough tears,
and you’re always the one that causes them.