Los Angeles Times (subscription), CA
April 28 2004

Steve Lopez:
Points West
Progress Overtakes Movie, or Does It?


"On May 14th," said the billboard above a Sav-on Drugs in Hollywood,
"there will be no Mexicans in California."

It sounded like maybe Pete Wilson was plotting a return to politics.
But in fact, the ad was a promo for an upcoming movie that's
pro-immigrant.

As you might have read last week, someone missed the point and lodged
a complaint, so the billboard above the Sav-on came down. But since
then, more ads are popping up around town, including one in Spanish.

"En Catorce de Mayo, Los Gringos Van a Llorar."

On May 14, the Gringos Are Going to Cry.

OK, I thought. I'll bite. And so I called for an advance copy of "A
Day Without a Mexican," a 97-minute film by director/writer Sergio
Arau and his wife, actress/writer Yareli Arizmendi. Both were born in
Mexico and now live in Hollywood.

The movie opens with a blond woman named Mary Jo Quintana waking up
alone in bed and wondering where her husband has disappeared to.

"And then I heard on the news that all the Mexicans were gone," she
says in great distress. "And my husband is a Mexican."

All across California, everyone of Latino descent is disappearing
without a trace in the over-the-top mockumentary. This creates one
crisis after another in the home of state Sen. Stephen Abercrombie
III, who looks strikingly like former California Gov. Pete Wilson.

Abercrombie was elected to office by whipping up anti-immigrant
fervor. Now the senator's Latina maid doesn't show up for work, and
he is completely unprepared for the tragic consequences.

"There's no fresh orange juice," the suffering senator informs his
wife.

"There's no clean clothes," she whines, practically in tears.
"There's no lunch."

This is a senator who in one scene scolds his Stepford wife for
hiring illegal immigrants for odd jobs.

"If we use regular Mexicans," his wife snaps, "it's going to cost a
lot more."

But alas, there are no more Mexicans or Guatemalans or Hondurans
available for hire, regular or otherwise. A state of emergency is
declared and the U.S. military is called in to figure out how nearly
half of California's residents could suddenly vanish into thin air.

Meanwhile, state commerce grinds to a halt, streets are trash-strewn
because there's no one to sweep them, leaf blowers lie abandoned,
fruit goes unpicked, carwash customers riot.

"This is a real disaster," says a university policy wag named Abdul
Hassan. "Forget about parking your cars and valets. Forget about
getting a glass of water at restaurants. Forget about restaurants."

Later, pounding a point that is by then quite obvious, Hassan says:

"I'm really afraid for this state, because the more we start figuring
out how dependent we are on Latinos, the more desperate people are
going to get."

OK, I get it.

But wouldn't the film have been more appropriate in the days of
Wilson and Proposition 187? A 187 redux just failed to qualify for
the November ballot because backers couldn't get enough signatures.

Arau and Arizmendi said Prop. 187 was in fact the inspiration for the
movie, which appeared several years ago as a short. The infamous
proposition, approved by voters and shot down by courts, is history,
Arizmendi agreed. But she got nervous when Wilson reappeared as one
of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's advisors.

"It's not a law this film is addressing, it's an attitude," she said.
"Turn on talk radio and you hear that the problem in the U.S., and
California in particular, is these illegal aliens who are coming and
taking our jobs."

Reality, unfortunately, is always more complicated than what you get
from talk radio or the movies.

Southern California is fast approaching A Day Without Breathable Air,
A Day Without a Swimmable Ocean, and A Day Without a Chance Any New
Resident Can Afford a House.

All of those would make good movies, too, and people should be able
to talk about those subjects without being called bigots.

But then again, we do have a few bigots on the loose, including those
who regularly encourage me to return to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba,
Uruguay, etc. So it's a kick to see a satire in which the Dodgers
have to cancel games because without Latinos they can't field a team.


Meanwhile, as Border Patrol agents wonder what to do with their days,
Sen. Abercrombie makes a quivering appeal to the missing Mexicans.

"More than ever, we need to be the great California familia and bring
back our Hispanic brothers and sisters," he says in a statewide TV
address.

Arizmendi, who was in the film "Like Water For Chocolate," plays the
one remaining Mexican in California. She courageously donates her
body so scientists can solve the mystery. At the last minute,
however, she finds out she's actually an Armenian who was raised by
Mexicans.

Don't miss the sequel.

A Day Without Armenians.

*

Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.