Movies

What “Roma” Has Revealed About Mexican Society and What It Means for Mexican-Americans

In the past few months since its release, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma has revealed some of the many cultural disparities between the U.S. and Mexico. The film details the life of a domestic worker, who has to take on issues of her own as well as those of the family by whom she is employed.

In the U.S., the film was instantly championed, specifically due to its ability to break through a threatening language barrier. The cast received many accolades and even Oscar nominations for their exceptionally executed roles and their passionate commitment to the film. However, the response was fairly different in Mexico. Yes, it was also celebrated. Yalitza Aparicio’s performance was recognized – but with significantly more backlash.

Yalitzia Aparicio starred (and she herself is ) as a woman of indigenous origin who speaks Mixteco, the language of the Mixtecs who predominantly inhabit the western half of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The film was meant to draw attention to the hardships of these oppressed people, as they travel to large cities and are discriminated by their Mexican counterparts.

But the rigid ethnic hierarchy present in Mexico since Spanish colonialism has greatly dulled Roma‘s ability to break into the compassion of many people who vehemently hold on to these prejudices. Indigenous and Afro-Mexican men and women are frequently forced into poverty and are more likely to have no formal education than their mestizo counterparts. This has been the case for centuries since Mexico became an independent country, and there have been little to no changes in its 200-year history, which has enabled Mexicans to accept and even defend these prejudices despite themselves being affected by a modern encomienda system.

At first, Yalitza Aparicio was applauded for having broken the stigma of indigenous women not being able to climb to the top of this hierarchy. Promotional photos of her mingling with celebrities did much to fuel the Mexican media and give pride to the indigenous communities and domestic workers alike.

Sadly, in the last few months, this has changed as reality begins to set in. Many tabloids are now filled with other Mexican actors’ vicious comments about her background and appearance. Shortly after the Oscars, the film was spoofed on the show Parodiando with the main actress, Yessica Rosales, wearing brownface. Soap-opera actor Sergio Goyri was recorded referring to her with a discriminatory slur. These are prominent actors within Mexican society, and they did not receive sufficient repercussions. People were upset. Rosales was forced to disable comments on her Instagram page but did not delete the offending post. Televisa, the media giant behind these actors, stated that the show did not intend to offend anyone and defended their actions, simply stating that they were in “bad taste.” Most have moved past the incidents.

This is different than what has happened in the U.S. since Roma was released five months ago. The film is still talked about. Some people are even scandalized if they know you have not seen it. Aparicio is on a pedestal. Mexican women are beyond proud, even if they are not of indigenous origin. Aparicio has had to deal with negative comments but has been better received in the U.S. different from her own country. The way Mexican media has reacted to the controversies is also significantly different than the way a similar scandal would have been portrayed in the U.S. as politicians are scrutinized for past offenses and Americans generally do not approve.

Mexican-Americans, children born in the U.S. whose parents were born in Mexico, are caught in a grey area. What can you do if your parents still hold on to these prejudices, despite being oppressed themselves? Many feel pride in seeing a Mexican film being celebrated, especially when they are kept down by an ethnically discriminatory, colorist American society. It seems as if white Americans are more willing to accept a foreign actress rather than the talent within their country. While the number of colored actors in feature films and shows is increasing, there is still work to be done in their reception. Mexican-Americans find trouble in these dynamics with no real, feasible solution at the moment.

We could blame this on our current political climate, but it is truly long-held prejudices held by everyone to some extent, regardless of past experiences, that do not allow artists of color to flourish. Yes, it is impossible to deny that our current administration has had no impact on the increase of hate crimes and racial divisions, but it seems as if it is really that more people are willing to express hateful opinions. It is not that significantly more people are adopting hate doctrines but simply that more think it is okay to do so. This reveals how, although we may not be as willing to accept racism or an eminently rigid ethnic hierarchy as much as Mexicans, we still hold on to a laughably grotesque level of prejudices.

To start accepting the amazing talent within our country, we must first accept our own wrongdoings as minorities towards one another within our own enclaves. We must overcome the colorism and texturism that continues to hold us down and we use to hold others down. These are stigmas that are passed down from older generations that need to be subdued prior to taking on a society that constantly pits us against each other in a race of proximity-to-whiteness. Uplifting artists of color may sound like a frivolous way to overcome differences, but representation truly matters. One exceptionally-received film is not enough to break down stigmas, it is work required by minorities and white allies, regardless of nationality.

Photo Credit: Carlos Somonte 

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