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El Norte: the ultimate immigrant story

Title: El Norte
Released: 1983
Director:: Gregory Nava

Plot Summary

There's a reason your teacher made you watch El Norte in your high school Spanish class: it's a good movie with a thoughtful message. The movie opens in a small village in Guatemala in the early 80s, a time of government oppression, disappearances and torture which started a civil war that wasn't resolved until the early 90s.

After a massacre in their village, siblings Rosa and Enrique decided to flee to the US, el norte, a place they imagine to be as incredible as tv programs and the stories they've heard growing up portray. Their trip is dangerous, and their new life in America isn't quite as they imagined.

The film brings up some great points about immigration: that people come to the US in hope of a better life, often fleeing bad situations; that the American economy relies on the work of immigrants; that immigrants often come thinking they will make a lot of money but don't realize how much they will have to spend to live.

Language Learning Notes

Much of the beginning of the movie is in a Mayan language, but the majority of the movie is in Spanish. The film points out how different Guatemalan Spanish is from Mexican Spanish despite their proximity. In Guatemala, the slang used to refer to money is pista while in Mexico it's lana. Generally, the Guatemalan accent is extremely neutral (thus all the Spanish schools there catering to tourists) which makes it relatively easy to understand for most Spanish-learners.



profanity in "El Norte"

I just showed it, and the students loved it... The problem is, there is a considerable amount of Spanish profanity in the movie (nicely subtitled complete with F-words and S-words) and I cringed during these passages. I know full well it's nothing new for the kids (high school classes), but I worried that some oversensitive student might tell his/her parents... The movie is rated "R" after all...

For anyone interested, there is an edited teachers' version available at . I haven't received this yet, so I cant' comment on how good it is... But it's safe.

It seems like all the movies with any substance are rated "R" .. Even "Como Agua para Chocolate" - and our school has a "No-R rated movies" policy... I sweated it, while they enjoyed the F--- out if it....!

After all, part of the message of the movie is that, to seem Mexican, you have to curse a lot! That's how Enrique passes for Mexican...