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"We need a day without a Mexican in California. That way they can miss us," said filmmaker Yareli Arizmendi when she was struck by the inspiration for her film.

Yareli Arizmendi confronts immigration issues head-on in 'A Day Without a Mexican'

In the mid-1990s, husband-and-wife filmmaking team Yareli Arizmendi and Sergio Arau found themselves in the Big Apple on December 1, known in New York City as "A Day Without Art."

"This is a single day in the year when the city shuts down all the museums and galleries so people can think about what a day without art would be like," Arizmendi explained to the Current during a visit to San Antonio. "They are commemorating the work of people, as artists, who have died of AIDS."

Realizing the power of the message, Arizmendi turned to her husband and offered an idea: "I told `Sergio`, 'You know what we need? We need a day without a Mexican in California. That way they can miss us.' You don't know what you've got until you lose it."

The inspiration for the short film A Day Without a Mexican was born, and with it came other revelations about why a film documenting the importance of Mexican citizens and Mexican undocumented immigrants in the United States should be made. "We wanted to - for California specifically - value Hispanic contributions," Arizmendi said. "We wanted others to see us as people who participate and give."

Arizmendi and Arau were also motivated by their opposition to California Governor Pete Wilson and Proposition 187, which was on the ballot in 1994. In a nutshell, Prop 187 stated, "The People of California ... are suffering economic hardship caused by the presence of illegal aliens ... " They were also disappointed when Arau emigrated to the United States, as a filmmaker, musician, and artist, and was not taken seriously as a Mexican professional.

"I got here and I did not exist," Arau said. "It's like I disappeared."

A Day Without a Mexican follows the lives of the people of California during an imaginary 24 hours in which a mysterious pink fog surrounds the state and somehow causes all the Mexicans to disappear. Cuban-Mexican-American Arizmendi, best known for her role in the film Like Water For Chocolate, plays the lead character Lila Rodriguez, a news reporter who is the only Mexican that does not vanish. Lila becomes an icon of hope to a state that is now suffering from the lack of laborers that have gone missing.

By weaving actual statistics into the narrative, the filmmakers were able to supply crucial facts while making the spoof as entertaining and comedic as possible. "When comedy is involved, people are more relaxed and more receptive to what you are saying," Arizmendi said. "We needed to put information in there, but in a creative way so it wouldn't go over people's heads."

A Day Without a Mexican
Dir. Sergio Arau; writ. Arau, Yareli Arizmendi, Sergio Guerrero; feat. Caroline Aaron, Tony Abatemarco, Melinda Allen, Frankie J. Allison, Fernando Arau, Yareli Arizmendi, Todd Babcock, Maria Beck, Yeniffer Behrens, Arell Blanton, Cassidy Paige Bringas, Brian Brophy, Elpidia Carrillo (R)
The film, which opened in California in May, has now washed over the rest of the nation and is becoming an ice breaker for U.S. immigration issues. "I think that part of what happens is that people think they know the truth because they see it from one angle," Arizmendi said. "It takes somebody else to say, 'No! Haven't you thought of it this way?'"

Arizmendi said that the film's website (www.adaywithoutamexican.com) has seen incredible activity in the chat rooms. "People started with one-liners, cursing at each other, then it expanded into full paragraphs and then into life essays. We were like, 'OK, we've obviously hit a spot where people need space to explain, express and exchange information.'"

Through this kind of dialogue, Arizmendi feels that the nation can get to the root of the immigration problem, one that she says does not begin in the U.S., but in the countries immigrants are fleeing.

"It doesn't just have to do with 'What is the United States going to do?'" Arizmendi says, "it's 'What is happening in the economies that are sending these people out of their country?'

"It's not just Mexicans in the United States. It's Moroccans in France, Turks in Germany, Africans in Italy. Everyone is displaced. There is something going on economically and a need for these people to migrate. We have to find this reason." •

By Kiko Martinez


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