July 28, 2000

The Mexican Americans

Across 2,000 miles of border and hundreds of years of history, the Mexican-American story has been woven like a vibrant sarape of timeless traditions and cultural connections. This Sat., August 5 at 5:30p.m. on PBS, actor Ricardo Montalban, comedian Paul Rodriguez, singers Vikki Carr and Tish Hinojosa, U.S. Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, director Luis Valdez (La Bamba), activist Dolores Huerta, artists, politicians, journalists, community leaders and others from a broad spectrum of cultural experience share their personal stories in an exploration of Mexican culture north of the border in The Mexican Americans.

Mexican Americans proudly served in every U.S. war in the 20th century; pictured, World War II servicement and their girlfriends.

Nurtured under the sacred canopy of their religious faith by families who embraced both the opportunities of their adopted homeland and the remedies, superstitions and rituals of their ancestors, Mexican Americans defended this nation in every war in the 20th century, becoming among the highest decorated ethnic groups. The Mexican Americans proudly showcases this incredible culture, backed by the irresistible sounds of the mariachi and fortified by the flavors of authentic Mexican cuisine.

The Mexican Americans looks at the Mexican diaspora and its various waves - the "accidental immigrants" who found themselves on the other side of the California and New Mexico borders at the end of the U.S.-Mexican war; the miners and railroad workers who came after the Mexican Revolution; the migrant farmers who came to the United States when their Mexican ranchos were taken from them - the challenges they overcame, and the changes that their children have affected in the United States, including the institution of Chicano Studies programs in many American universities.

For the migrant farmer, travelling up and down the United States following crop seasons or a wage increase of as little as two cents a bushel, playwright/director Luis Valdez recalls in the program, home "was a question mark." But as many in the program recognize, this sacrifice reaped the American Dream, and when the children of these laborers did succeed, they never forgot where they came from. Comedian Paul Rodriguez shares an emotional account of the day he handed his father the deed for the 40 acres of farmland his parents worked to provide for the family when he was a small boy - a purchase he was able to make from a level of success they never imagined possible for themselves.

Most notably, the Mexican -Americans' ability to improve the quality of their experience in the Untied States within a generation is demonstrated in the program in the work of the United Farm Workers toward improved labor conditions during the 1960s. Led by the late Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, who related in the program their efforts for La Causa, these second generation Mexican-Americans, with the Aztec eagle as their symbol, made great strides for civil rights and economic opportunities for laborers that are finally today reaching their culmination.

Mexicans living in the United States - whether calling themselves Chicanos, Tejanos, or Mestizos - share the distinction of descending from the original melting pot, Mexico's rich cultural blend of influences as varied as the indigenous Yaqui and Apache nations, ancient Aztecs and Mayans, and Spanish aristocracy. Using archival film and photos blended with modern footage of communities in California, Texas, and New York, The Mexican Americans celebrates this unique American experience and the men and women whose hard work, determination, strength, and faith have preserved and built upon the ideals of la familia mexicana for generations to come.

The Mexican Americans is the twelfth program in WLIW21 New York's series of cultural documentaries celebrating the diversity of America, which also incudes The Cuban Americans and The Puerto Ricans: Our American Story.

Return to Frontpage