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.

Sopa de Pollo Salvadoreña

Sopa de Pollo Salvadoreña

Carlos has been sick for a week, and on Friday he was so sick that he even took off work. I’ve been doing every home remedy I know of to make him better – Vicks Vaporub on the feet before bed, honey lemon tea, vaporizers, vitamin C, and just plain old bed rest, but nothing seemed to help very much. (I did all these remedios caseros on myself too for prevention and so far, so good.)

On Saturday Carlos asked me to make him Sopa de Pollo, but he didn’t want the Bolivian Chicken Soup recipe I always use. He asked if I’d try to make Salvadoran Chicken Soup “with lots of vegetables” this time. Obviously he was needing a little extra apapachamiento! Of course I always love making a new Salvadoran dish and seeing the way his eyes light up when it’s a success, so I did some research, looked at a handful of recipes, and then headed to the grocery store to get what I needed.

Before the soup was even ready, Carlos was getting excited. He kept calling out to me from the living room where he was on the sofa covered in a blanket, “It smells so good. It smells like I remember…” Then when it was ready, I put the bowl before him at the table and he smiled, “It looks like how I remember!” … Then he tasted it, and I’m not exaggerating, he stood up, kissed me (on the neck so I wouldn’t get his germs) and told me he loved me. Jajaja.

Here’s my recipe in case you know a sick salvadoreño or salvadoreña who could use a little “TLC”, (Cuidado amoroso y tierno.)

Sopa de Pollo Salvadoreño

You need:

10 chicken thighs (boneless, skinless)
2 medium tomatoes, quartered
3 corn cobs, broken in half
1/2 1 small cabbage, cut in chunks
cilantro
basil, (fresh, not dry)
2 to 3 celery stalks with leaves
2 cups baby carrots, (or cut up carrots)
3 green onions, (roots cut off)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 small potatoes, cut into bite-size chunks
1 small zucchini, skin removed and chopped in bite-size pieces
1/2 cup uncooked rice or small pasta like “conchitas” (little shells)
1 tsp. salt, plus to taste
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. achiote (ground annatto)

Directions:

1. Assemble and prepare all your ingredients, (wash and chop vegetables, etc.)

Note: I used all boneless, skinless chicken thighs because Carlos prefers dark meat and it gives the stock a better flavor, but you can use a whole chicken cut in pieces (remove skin – bones optional as some people like to “chupar el hueso”), or substitute some chicken breasts. As for the vegetables, feel free to experiment. For example, some people use yucca instead of potatoes, and some add chayote/güisquil, broccoli, cauliflower, and/or green pepper.

2. In a large stock pot over medium high heat, add the chicken plus enough water to cover by about 2 inches.

3. Add to the pot: a handful of cilantro, a handful of basil, celery stalks with leaves, garlic, tomatoes, green onions, 1 tsp. salt, cumin, pepper, and achiote.

4. Simmer for 20 minutes or until chicken is completely cooked. Use a slotted spoon to remove and then discard the cilantro, basil, celery, tomatoes and green onions. Use a small sieve to skim off any foam.

5. Add the rice (or pasta), corn cobs, potatoes, and carrots. Cook covered until rice is cooked and vegetables are tender.

6. Remove cover. Add cabbage and zucchini. Simmer for a minute or two and then remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly and then taste. Add additional salt as desired. (I prefer to let each person add more salt to their own individual portion.)

7. Ladle into bowls and top with cilantro if desired. (I like to eat all the meat and vegetables out of it and then eat the broth with crushed Ritz crackers.)

Buen provecho!

La Cerca (The Fence)

Image source: Orange Grove Media

Image source: Orange Grove Media

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!

Uno no siempre puede saber todo sólo mediante observar. Ser observador es importante, pero sólo si uno recuerda que como ser humanos, nuestra abilidad de ver algo con los ojos y destilar la verdad, es imperfecto, limitado e influenciado por nuestras propias emociones, experiencias, y creencias.

Tomemos por ejemplo esta sencilla cerca. ¿Por qué estaba construida? ¿Los dueños quieren privacidad? ¿Es por protección o un sentido de seguridad? ¿Quieren previnir que salga su mascota o sus niños? ¿O que no entran extraños y animales desconocidos? ¿Tal vez van a construir una piscina o tienen un perro que muerde, y no quieren poner sus vecinos en peligro? ¿Es por razones estéticas, que se ve bonita la propiedad? ¿Quizás quieren vender la casa y están agregando valor a la propiedad? o es que ¿No quieren que su vecino les moleste?

Lo único que sabemos es que hay una cerca, pero no podemos saber por cierto por qué hay una cerca sin preguntar a los dueños. Pero ¿por qué estoy hablando de las cercas y los supuestos? Estos pensamientos se inspiraron en una hermosa serie que he estado leyendo en The New York Times. La serie se llama “The Way North“, y se trata de la inmigración.

The Way North: Day 25” es una entrevista con una mujer que se llama Francene en Wichita, Kansas. Francene ha vivido toda su vida en Wichita en la misma propiedad. Ella cuenta tanto las experiencias positivas y negativas que ha tenido con los inmigrantes mexicanos en la communidad que han estado moviendo a las casas en su vecindad. Ella contó sobre jovenes mexicanos que quebrarón una ventana, y entraron en un edificio de su propiedad, dañaron y robaron cosas. Contó también del hombre mexicano y su hijo que hicieron las reparaciones a la ventana y trataron de cobrar menos por la reparación porque se sentían mal por lo que le pasó. Una parte de la historia menciona a la familia mexicana que vive detrás de la casa de Francene. Anteriormente Francene les llevaba sandías cada domingo durante sus barbacoas familiares … hasta que se construyó una cerca.

Al final del artículo, nos encontramos con Leonel, el vecino mexicano que vive detrás Francene – El mismo vecino que construyó la cerca. Cuando el escritor del artículo hablo con Leonel y le dijo cómo se sentía Francene, Leonel expresó sorpresa. “¿En serio?” dijo Leonel. “Ella es una buena persona. Yo no sabía que iba a molestarse. Simplemente lo hicimos para hacer la casa más bonita.”

Esta historia me puso muy triste, porque estos tipos de malentendidos y suposiciones dividen a la gente más que la cerca física. Es una lección de no saltar a conclusiones.

¿Qué “cerca” estás malinterpretando en tu vida?

[ENGLISH TRANSLATION]

One can not always know everything simply by observing. Being observant is important, but only if one remembers that as human beings, our ability to see something with our eyes and distill the truth is imperfect, limited, and influenced by our own emotions, experiences, and beliefs.

Let’s take for example this simple fence. Why was in built? Did the owners want privacy? Is it for protection or a sense of security? Do they want to prevent their pet or children from going out? Or prevent strangers and unknown animals from coming in? Maybe they’re going to build a pool or they own a dog that bites, and they don’t want to put their neighbors in danger? Is it for aesthetic reasons, to make the property look nice? Perhaps they want to sell the house and they added the fence to increase the property value? Do they not like their neighbor and want to make it more difficult for that neighbor to bother them?

The only thing we know is that there is a fence, but we can’t know for sure why there is a fence without asking the owners. But why am I even talking about fences and assumptions? These thoughts were inspired by a beautiful series I’ve been reading in The New York Times. The series is called “The Way North“, and it’s about immigration.

The Way North: Day 25” is an interview with a woman named Francene in Wichita, Kansas. Francene has lived all her life in Wichita on the same property. She recounts experiences both positive and negative that she’s had with the Mexican immigrants in the community who have been moving into her neighborhood. There are the Mexican teenagers who broke a window, entered a building on her property, damaged and stole things. There is the Mexican man and his child who made the repairs to her window and tried to undercharge her for the repair because they felt badly about what had happened to her. One part of the article mentions the Mexican family that lives behind Francene’s house. Francene used to bring them watermelons each Sunday during their family barbeques… until they built a fence.

At the end of the article, we meet Leonel, the Mexican neighbor who lives behind Francene’s house – the neighbor that built the fence. When Leonel was told how Francene felt, he expressed surprise. “For real?” Leonel said, “She’s a nice person. I didn’t know it was going to bother her. We just did it to make the house look nice.”

This story made me really sad, because these types of misunderstandings and assumptions divide people even more than the actual physical fence. It’s a lesson in not jumping to conclusions.

What “fence” might you be misinterpreting in your life?

Latin American Themed Cellphone Cases

latin-american-cellphones

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

Several years ago I was diagnosed as having carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s a common ailment for writers to develop, and I still haven’t gotten around to having surgery. Besides my hands feeling weak and arthritic at times, one of the worst symptoms of CTS is the increased instance of total butterfinger moments. (Those who have CTS know what I’m talking about!)

For the rest of you, let me explain: I’ll be holding something (an ice cream cone, a book, the remote control) and all of a sudden, my hand will just decide all on its own, that it doesn’t want to hold it anymore. I get no warning whatsoever. A frequent victim of these butterfinger moments is my cellphone.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve dropped my phone – and some of them have been from standing position over concrete. Thankfully I have a case on my phone and so far (knock on wood), my Samsung Galaxy s4 hasn’t been damaged. I’m sure that having a case on my phone has been at least partly responsible for protecting it, so I recently decided to invest in another case, as the one I have on it is pretty boring, (just a cheap grey-colored one.) While looking for a new case, I realized that some of you guys would probably love these as much as I do. Want to help me pick out which one I should buy? I narrowed it down to four and I’m having trouble choosing. Let me know in comments which case I should get!

el-salvador-phonecase
El Salvador phone case from Zazzle/AllWorldTees

sugarskulls-case
Sugar Skulls phone case from Zazzle/Thaneeya McArdle

world-map-case
World Map phone case from Zazzle/PMCustomGifts

frida-1-case
Frida Kahlo phone case from FineArtAmerica/Elena Day

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

I’m a madrina! (and you can be too)

quinces-mx

The other day I received a message from my amiga Denisse Montalvan over at The Orphaned Earring, letting me know that she is once again accepting donations to give a quinceañera to the orphan girls in Mexico and Guatemala who are coming of age. This is something a little extra she does for these girls, because her organization supports many orphaned children, both boys and girls, in various Latin American countries throughout the year with food, fun activities, and more.

This cause is really close to my heart, and there’s a sort of ugly truth behind my reason. One thing Denisse pointed out has really stuck in my mind, and that is the fact that there are sick people out there who lure teenage girls to run away with promises of a better life. A girl with unfulfilled wishes may be especially vulnerable to falling victim. We need these girls to know that they are loved and make sure they feel special on their special day. They are no less deserving of having their special day than any other girl in Latin America, (and Denisse tells me they are all such good girls – super kind, helpful with the younger children, and they do well in school.)

So, when I received the email from Denisse the other day, I asked Carlos if we could donate a sum of money again this year and he not only agreed, but told me to double it. It wasn’t a huge sum of money, but Denisse makes the money go far – you’ll be amazed with what she can do on a small budget (Just $30 a month feeds about 60 children daily for a month in Guatemala! That’s one fast food meal for a family of four in the U.S.!) and every little bit helps, so if you want to be a madrina or padrino too, even if you can only give a few dollars, please do – it could make all the difference in the world in their lives.

Details from Denisse:

quinces-guatemala

Guatemala girls: The celebration will be held Sunday, August 17th. Thankfully our three beautiful girls already have quinceañera dresses that were donated for last year’s quinceañera celebration. We just need to raise money for the party and gifts for the girls!

Mexico girls: To our surprise, the girls in Tijuana want to do a history tour in D.F. Mexico. They’ve read about the history of their country and dream of traveling to visit the museums and historical sites in D.F. Instead of spending money on a party, they would like help with plane tickets. Once in D.F. we would find a church or friends to allow them to stay with them.

Become a quinceañera madrina o padrino (godmother or godfather) and help raise money for celebrations for 4 girls in Mexico and 3 girls in Guatemala. This is how you can help!

• Donate using The Orphaned Earring Paypal Link or send your donation to donation@theorphanedearring.com

• Help meet our goal by contributing to the #QuinceDreams Fundly campaign and encourage your family and friends to #DoGood by donating any amount. Simply click here: https://fundly.com/quincedreams

• You can also become a monthly supporter to help us continue to bring smiles to over 300 children! Become a monthly donor. Any amount helps! Click on this Paypal Link, enter the amount you want to donate in the amount box and click on the recurring monthly payment.

It might be ambitious of The Orphaned Earring to think they can make all their orphaned children dreams come true, but with your support I know nothing is impossible!

We Need Diverse Books!

Image created by:  Icey Design

Image created by: Icey Design

The past couple days, I have had the immense pleasure of helping organize #WeNeedDiverseBooks with some amazing people – (You may have seen me tweeting already from my @Latinaish account as well as my personal @TracyDeLopez account.) The campaign is described in detail below, but it is basically a call for more diversity in books – something many of us have been talking about for a long time. I remember when Latinas for Latino Lit launched with this same mission, and through that I had the opportunity to express my views on the topic, as well as host authors René Colato Laínez and Meg Medina here on my blog. So I am really excited to see so many people coming together, from la comunidad Latina and beyond – to hopefully bring about some real change in the publishing industry. I hope you’ll join us! – Tracy López

A Joint Message From The Organizers of #WeNeedDiverseBooks, And Details On How You Can Get Involved:

Recently, there’s been a groundswell of discontent over the lack of diversity in children’s literature. The issue is being picked up by news outlets like these two pieces in the NYT, CNN, EW, and many more. But while we individually care about diversity, there is still a disconnect. BEA’s Bookcon recently announced an all-white-male panel of “luminaries of children’s literature,” and when we pointed out the lack of diversity, nothing changed.

Now is the time to raise our voices into a roar that can’t be ignored. Here’s how:

May 1st at 1pm (EST) – There will be a public call for action that will spread over 3 days. We’re starting with a visual social media campaign using the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks. [People are already using it, so join us!] We want people to use Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, blogs, and post anywhere they can to help make the hashtag go viral.

You can also support #WeNeedDiverseBooks by taking a photo holding a sign that says:

“We need diverse books because ___________________________.” Fill in the blank with an important, poignant, funny, and/or personal reason why this campaign is important to you.

The photo can be of you or a friend or anyone who wants to support diversity in kids’ lit. It can be a photo of the sign without you if you would prefer not to be in a picture. Be as creative as you want! Pose the sign with your favorite stuffed animal or at your favorite library. Get a bunch of friends to hold a bunch of signs. However you want to do it, we want to share it! We will host all the photos at WeNeedDiverseBooks.Tumblr, so please submit your photos by May 1st to weneeddiversebooks@yahoo.com with the subject line “photo” or submit it right on our Tumblr page here and it will be posted throughout the first day.

At 1:00PM EST the Tumblr will start posting and it will be your job to reblog, tweet, Facebook, or share wherever you think will help get the word out.

The intent is that from 1pm EST to 3pm EST, there will be a non-stop hashtag party to spread the word. We hope that we’ll get enough people to participate to make the hashtag trend and grab the notice of more media outlets.

The Tumblr will continue to be active throughout the length of the campaign, and for however long we need to keep this discussion going, so we welcome everyone to keep emailing or sending in submissions even after May 1st.

May 2nd – The second part of our campaign will roll out with a Twitter chat scheduled for 2pm EST using the same hashtag. Please use #WeNeedDiverseBooks at 2pm on May 2nd and share your thoughts on the issues with diversity in literature and why diversity matters to you.

May 3rd – At 2pm EST, the third portion of our campaign will begin. There will be a Diversify Your Shelves initiative to encourage people to put their money where their mouth is and buy diverse books and take photos of them. Diversify Your Shelves is all about actively seeking out diverse literature in bookstores and libraries, and there will be some fantastic giveaways for people who participate in the campaign! (More details and giveaway entry HERE!)

We hope that you will take part in this in any way you can. We need to spread the word far and wide so that it will trend on Twitter. So that media outlets will pick it up as a news item. So that the organizers of BEA and every big conference and festival out there gets the message that diversity is important to everyone. We hope you will help us by being a part of this movement.

Hasta Aquí No Más

hasta-aqui

If you’re anything like me, it’s important to you to teach your sons to be respectful of women, but there’s a campaign I was made aware of recently that made me realize, as a mother, I can do more. The “Hasta Aquí No Más” campaign encourages men to speak up when other men are being disrespectful or abusive toward women. Speaking up when someone isn’t acting right may sound like a no-brainer, but it takes courage to do it in certain situations, and when there is machismo in the cultural mix, it can be harder still to take an unpopular stance when in a group with other males.

Although the pressure is intense for teenagers, even married adult men can find themselves in awkward situations.

After seeing these videos, I’m taking a pledge to sit down and talk to my sons about the topic. Our boys and young men need to know, it takes more of a man to stand up for what’s right, than to stay silent just to maintain the false appearance of manliness and approval of peers.

Break the silence. Spread the word. Rompe el silencio. Pasa la voz. #HastaAquiNoMas

What do you think of this campaign? Have you talked to your son/s about this topic? If you’re a man, do you find it difficult to speak up in defense of women when other men around you are being disrespectful?

Learn more about this campaign at Draw-the-line.