If first-generation Latino immigrants only spoke Spanish, the second generation would be fluent in Spanish and English, and by the fourth generation, English would be the primary language and few would know Spanish. As was the case in my family. In my grandparents’ time, when they were growing up in the U.S., speaking Spanish was almost prohibited for them; speaking Spanish was a liability. The loss of language and culture was the price to pay in order to get better jobs or live in a nicer neighborhood.
We have lost some traditions and cultural knowledge that we can never get back. But there are some that we can still try to recover, that we can bring back and, as ambassadors of our culture, share and celebrate with others.
Ambassadors of Latino culture in the film industry are rare. Although Latinos make up about 25% of the U.S. population, only 5.2% of lead actors, 2.5% of screenwriters, and 2.6% of directors are Latino. Finance is one of the top barriers in the film industry. In terms of statistics, the Latino community has less money and fewer opportunities.
So even if someone is a great storyteller, they may not have access to filming equipment. And you may have to do what I did: put it on a credit card and hope that you get good enough to be able to pay it off and make a living out of it.
It is not because of a lack of talent; if you look at Hollywood right now, we have some incredible Latino filmmakers like Oscar winners Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu, but they’re telling the stories of white non-Hispanic men.
In New Mexico, Latinos are typically Mexican-American. If you look back on our history and our culture, we’re hard workers. We are out in the sun all day in the fields, growing food. In our culture, that is considered hard work and is respected. If you, as a young person, tell your parents that you want to be a filmmaker, storyteller, or artist and depend on technology they didn’t grow up with or understand, you may not get much support or even get resistance from your family. Some kind of education needs to be had by older generations to see that one can make a living as a filmmaker.
Nowadays, it is not only youth who are consuming video content; adults do it too. Adults in the U.S. spend an average of 62 minutes per day watching videos. Video can communicate much better than text can. On video, you can show emotion and verbal communication that people can understand even if they don’t speak the language, which makes it universal, and it is hard to do that in any other medium.
As a New Mexican filmmaker, I am honored to be able to tell those stories and then present them on a platform like Our Heritage, Our Planet Film Week, which celebrates the voices, experiences and storytelling traditions of communities of color in connection to our heritage and our planet.
I invite you to be an ambassador of your culture. Pick up your phone, pick up a piece of paper, whatever you have, and document what you feel is important about the Latino culture: your familia, the food, the music, the relationships, whatever it is that is important to you. And document it and save it so that we can keep our traditions and our cultures alive for many years and generations to come.