Dude, Where's My Carwash?

A Day without a Mexican

reviewed by Steve Sailer

The American Conservative, June 21, 2004


Currently playing mostly in Hispanic neighborhoods in California, "A Day Without a Mexican" is a fairly amusing cross between a "Twilight Zone" parable and one of Christopher Guest's satirical mockumentaries. It depicts what might happen if one sunny morning, all twelve million Latinos in the Golden State suddenly vanish into a purple haze, leaving inept gringos behind to bunglingly paint their own houses, wash their own cars, and scrub their own toilets.

One upside is immediately clear: the non-Hispanics left behind can now commute to work at 95 MPH on the empty San Diego Freeway. After awhile, though, California's whites, blacks, and Asians realize that not only are they tired of trying (and failing) to take care of themselves, but that they actually miss their old Latino neighbors -- maybe they wouldn't have gone if we hadn't taken them for granted. Even the film's WASP villain, the Pete Wilson look-alike Governor, starts a crash project to bring the Mexicans back from the Purple Dimension.

The state's hopes are pinned on television reporter Lila Rodriguez, the last person left in California whose name ends in a "z." She nobly donates herself to play lab rat in a half-mad Japanese scientist's search for the ineffable "Latino Factor" in her genes. There, she learns the shocking truth about herself: her real parents were immigrants from Armenia. When she was orphaned as a baby, the warm-hearted Mexican family next door adopted her. She sobs, "But my heart is Mexican!" … and instantly disappears.

Latino audiences hoping to see a movie starring people like themselves will be stymied by the unavoidable problem that "A Day Without a Mexican" is, as promised, frequently a movie without a Mexican.

In case you were wondering, the Mexican screenwriters employ a definition of "Mexican" so expansive that even the Los Angeles Opera's general director, Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo, evaporates. To cover up their Mexican imperialism toward their southern neighbors, the filmmakers repeatedly joke that whites call all Hispanics "Mexicans."

The movie is unlikely to strike a nerve among non-Hispanics in the immense regions of the country where Americans take for granted that they must do all those jobs that upper-middle class Californians assume "Americans just won't do." Nor will the movie convince the general public that Los Angeles is actually better off for having been inundated with illegal immigrants. The film metaphorically asks: What would LA look like if the federal government had been serious about enforcing the law?

Like Seattle with sunshine?

"A Day Without a Mexican" is an obvious allegory about how a general strike among nationalistic Latinos could someday bring California to its knees. As a comedy, it's nothing special, but precisely because movies about Mexican-Americans are so rare, it offers a unique perspective on the debate over Latino separatism kicked off by Harvard professor Samuel Huntington's book "Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity."

In contrast to Huntington, the filmmakers are dismayed by how little impact the 38 million resident Hispanics are having on America's national identity. "How do you make the invisible visible?" they ask in frustration. "You take it away."

Although the press regularly twitters about the "vibrant contributions of Mexican-American culture," the hard truth is that California's main creative industries -- Hollywood and Silicon Valley -- pay almost no attention to Chicanos. This film's director and three screenwriters, for example, are not Mexican-Americans, but famous names in Mexico City's artistic elite.

Hispanic culture thrives in Miami, the dream destination of Latin America's wealthy; but surprisingly few Mexican institutions besides churches and soccer teams prosper in LA, the first stop for the poor.

Perhaps the most insightful objection to Huntington's worries about future separatism is that the immigrants, bringing with them from Mexico bitter lessons that you can't trust anybody outside the family, don't seem able to get themselves organized enough, not the way American immigrants in 19th Century California and Texas could come together to secede from Mexico.

Today, wealthy white Californians see Mexicans as a docile and content supply of cheap servants, unlike those surly, dangerous, and ungrateful African-Americans. Yet, a race can tire of servility. Recall that just fifty years ago, whites complacently assumed that blacks would be pleased to be their cooks and gardeners forever.

We may someday look back on this little film as the first faint harbinger of a sea change in Mexican political consciousness.

Rated R for language and brief sexuality.


email me



email me