At the end of Cheech Marin's Born in East L.A. (1987), a pair of undocumented Chinese immigrants who have been trained by Rudy (Marin) in the art of walking, talking, and gesturing like Mexican-Americans successfully act Mexican-American in front of a police officer to convince and assure him that they indeed are "natives."
Of concern to both Lowe and Oboler is the unequal status of minorities as members of the United States national community and citizenry. Basically, the U.S. citizen has been defined as a white male. This subsequently has meant that especially persons of color have been "conceived in the popular mind as outside of the 'boundaries' of the 'American' community" (Oboler 19). Thus, persons of color are denied "the extension of full citizenship rights" (Oboler 28); they are denied protection of their "privileges and. . . local body" (Berlant 113).
Fregoso indicates that with Born in East L.A. Cheech Marin parodies the second level of meaning at which "'Born in the USA' had been disarticulated from its signifying elements of working-class discourse and rearticulated as an expression of racist and patriotic discourse" (56). Marin basically uses to his advantage the nativist logic which results in "Born in the USA" being taken to signify "foreigners (or non-whites) go home" (Fregoso 56). His objective is to intervene into the definition of "Americans" as whites. Underpinning white nativists' appropriation of "Born in the USA" is the extremely narrow reasoning that America belongs to whites because whites are born here. Marin intervenes by indicating that Mexican-Americans also are born in the USA. Thus, "brown people are natives too" (Fregoso 56) .
When caught up in an Immigration raid, Rudy declares, "I was born in East L.A.," to the INS officer to announce his right to be in the United States unharassed. Rudy is also implicitly telling the officer that by birthright he (Rudy) is an equal citizen to the officer and entitled to the same freedoms that the officer and any other (white) citizen enjoy.
Of course, despite the fact that Rudy declares that he was born in East L.A., and thus a citizen by his nativeness, he is deported. In fact, when he attempts to align himself with INS officers as their fellow American citizen, Rudy is soundly rejected. To the officer at the toy factory, Rudy is merely another "bean in a bean bag." As he is escorted to the INS van, Rudy's appeals to the officers that "I am an American citizen" are for naught, for he is briskly ushered into the van with the "rest" of the non-citizen Mexicans.
In the INS office in Tijuana, Rudy tells the white officer, "It's good to talk to a American" but the officer does not accept Rudy as his equal, and ultimately condemns him to "Mexico-- where you belong." Highly symbolic of the repudiation of Mexican-Americans' claims to citizenship equal to that of white Americans is the scene in the INS van when Rudy, banging on the door which separates the deportees from the INS driver, screams, "I'm an American. I went to Belmont High, you idiot." Although Rudy is creating quite an uproar, he is not heard by the driver simply because the driver has on a set of headphones. Literally his assertions (shouts) of his membership in the U.S. national community are tuned out. This non-reception of Rudy's shouts reflects the refusal of white America to heed persons' of color justified demands for equal status as citizens.
"Rudy [just] cannot convince U.S. border officials that he is an American and therefore has the right to return to the United States" (Cortes 47); they simply will not hear his claims. All of Rudy's encounters with INS officers thus dramatize the exclusion of persons of color from the national community which Lowe and Oboler discuss. Moreover, the negation of Rudy's citizenship makes visible the contradictions inherent in white-American nativist logic.
With his wallet at home, Rudy finds himself without...
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Berlant, Lauren. "National Brands/National Body: Imitations of Life." Comparative American Identities: Race, Sex, and Nationality in the Modern Text. Ed. Hortense J. Spillers. New York: Routledge, 1991. 110-140.
Fordham, Signithia and John U. Ogbu. "Black Students ' School Success: Coping with the 'Burden of 'Acting White. ' '" The Urban Review 18 (1986): 176-206.
Fregoso, Rosa Linda. The Bronze Screen: Chicana and Chicano Film Culture. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993.
List, Christine. Chicano Images: Refiguring Ethnicity in Mainstream Film. Garland Studies in American Popular History and Culture Ser. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996.
Lowe, Lisa. Immigrant Acts. Durham: Duke UP, 1996.
Oboler, Suzanne. Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives: Identity and the Politics of (Re)Presentation in the Unted States. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1995.
Padilla, Felix. Latino Ethnic Consciousness: The Case of Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans in Chicago. Notre Dame, IN: U of Notre Dame P, 1985.
Simmen, Edward. The Chicano: From Caricature to Self-Portrait. Introduction. New York: New American Library, 1971. 15-26.
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