Every year, September 16 is celebrated in commemoration of Mexico's first proclamation of independence from Spain in 1810. In that year, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a pastor in the town of Dolores, in the state of Guanajuato, prepared the people in his area for rebellion against Spanish rule. On September 16, Hidalgo and his colleagues proclaimed the rebellion in their famous "el Grito de Dolores," (the cry of Dolores). With this insurrection, the Spanish withdrew their forces from the frontier presidios. It was not until 1821, however, that Mexico acquired its independence from Spain.
After it achieved independence from Spain, Mexico experienced fierce turmoil throughout the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century. The former Mexican lands of Texas, California, New Mexico, Arizona and other areas were caught up in the strife and many Mexican people crossed the borders into the United States to escape. For years, Americans have gotten a slanted perspective of the early Mexican-American frontier from Hollywood Westerns. But the Mexican American experience has been captured in films, and there are many classics either made or written by Mexican Americans, or by a mix of Anglos and Hispanics who have gotten beyond the limited range of Hollywood.
To commemorate Mexican Independence Day, rent some of the following videos for a taste of Mexican American history.
Salt of the Earth. Independent Productions, 1954. Directed by Herbert Biberman; written by Michael Wilson; produced by Paul Jarrico.
This drama is about an impoverished mining town in New Mexico in the 1950s and features as its cast the real people from the town. The film focuses on the efforts of a mainly Hispanic union to improve conditions for the mine workers.
Alambrista! (The Illegal). Bobwin/Film Hans, 1978. Directed by Robert Young. Starring Domingo Ambriz and Trinidad Silva.
A young man crosses from Mexico to the United States illegally, and struggles to make his way in the harsh new society.
Zoot Suit, Universal, 1981. Directed by Luis Valdez.
In Los Angeles of the 1940s, a Mexican American gang is tried for a murder they may not have committed.
Seguín, made for public television, biography/drama, produced by KCET, 1982.
This film, with an almost entirely Latin cast, centers on Mexican Juan Nepomuenco Seguín (1803-1849). Seguín was a hero in Mexico's struggles against the United States at the Alamo. He later became mayor of San Antonio, but after facing discrimination, returned to fight with Santa Anna on the side of the Mexicans in the Mexican-American War. This is the first Chicano version of the Alamo story in American film.
Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, Embassy Pictures and Moctezuma Esparza Productions, 1983. Directed by Robert M. Young. Based on Americo Paredes' book With a Pistol in His Hands; screenplay by Victor Villaseñor.
This film depicts real-life San Antonio social hero Gregorio Cortez (also the subject of a popular corrido), who had a deadly encounter with Anglo law enforcers after being wrongfully accused of stealing a horse.
The Old Gringo Columbia, 1989. Directed by Luis Puenzo; from a book by Carlos Fuentes.
Set in the Mexican desert in the early 1900s, this film explores the era when Pancho Villa stormed the Southwest.
My Family/Mi Familia, Directed by Gregory Nava, 1995.
The chronicle of a Mexican American family, beginning in the turmoil of war-torn Mexico, when the narrator (Olmos) decides to walk from Mexico to California. The film features a large, Latin cast, including Edward James Olmos, Jennifer Lopez and Jimmy Smits.