Y tu Mamà Tambièn (and Your Mother Too, 2002):

An examination of race and class in modern Mexico

By

Mateen O. Kemet 2 / 06

Mexico has a long and rich history that combines several cultures and nations from the indigenous Maya, Inca and Aztec to the imperialistic Spanish, French and of course its contiguous northern neighbor, the United States.  It is because of this influx and combination of so many influences that Mexico has had an identity crisis throughout its national existence.[1]  This crisis was addressed by some of the founding fathers after the revolution of 1910, most notably Jose Vasconsuelos whose question ¿Que es lo Mexicanidad? “What is Mexicaness”?  is now famous.[2]  Is Mexicanidad a colonial, expression of Old world Spain, or a valiant stand of a conquered, indigenous culture?  This question has never been fully answered.  Nevertheless, it has been raised again and again throughout Mexico’s history -- during the embryonic stages of the 1930’s, the tumultuous La Crisis of the 1960’s, continuing in the 70’s during the Eccheverria regime; and now in modern day it is being raised once more.  Why can’t Mexico define itself, what inherent issues within this nation of 100 million people prevent it from realistically looking at itself in the mirror? The question of who is the Mexican, what does it mean to be Mexican, and moreover who controls Mexico – not so much physically, but more culturally and psychologically – is at the forefront of consciousness that haunts this country everyday, especially as it moves out of the Third World and toward developed nation status.

Mexico is in a quagmire and it can’t seem to pull itself out.  There are many reasons for this and most are very similar to problems of other nations that are trying to move out of the Third World.  First, there are the environmental concerns.  Mexico is extremely polluted.  Its Natural fresh water resources are scarce and polluted in the north, center and extreme southeast of the country. Many rural areas that rely on agricultural subsistence have undergone widespread erosion and desertification in recent years; in fact, Mexico has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world – over 1,500,000 hectares of temperate and tropical forest have been lost in the last 20 years. Moreover, the air quality is dangerous, especially in Mexico City, as well as in many of the urban centers along the U.S./Mexico border.[3]

There are also economic structural problems due to modernization. Its agricultural sector, which employs a quarter of the labor force, produces only eight percent of its GDP. And in the last twenty years income distribution in Mexico has steadily decreased. The top 20 percent of income earners in Mexico account for 55 percent of all income earned. Per capita income has risen to $3,700 per year, a significant increase from $2,000 in the late 1980's; yet, the number of poor families has tripled since 1989, so that 40% of Mexico now lives in extreme poverty while another 20% lives in significant poverty. This poverty, is largely concentrated in Mexico’s rural southern states, and has an indigenous and female profile. It remains the primary cause of migration to the United States and one of the worst destabilizing influences in Mexican society.[4]

Thus we can surmise just as the new wave of the 1960’s rationalized: the Mexican Revolution was a failure -- wealth has not, then or now, been redistributed and the poor are poorer today than they’ve ever been.

How can Mexico compete in the new world and overcome its poverty, or begin at least to start its transformation?  I think the most serious and simple answer is to deal with race.  Mexico has to resolve its racial identity. Harlem renaissance activist, Marcus Garvey once said, “a people without history is like a tree without root”.  And while Mexico has plenty of history, it is clearly unrooted and cloaked in confusion because we don’t know whose history is it?  Is it European, Mestizo, Criollo, or Indian history? 

Like it’s big brother to the north, race is a crucial yet unspoken theme within the fabric of Mexico. And while the nation proudly states we are one people, socio-politically it is bifurcated, and very colonial in structure, actually in the same fashion as the rest of Latin America  (and all of the third world for that matter). The demographics show the Criollo – Creole, lighter skinned, European, phenotype continues to rule while the indigenous Indian continues to struggle against poverty and oppression.  These small groups of white Europeans – the remaining Spanish colonists along with French Settlers from the 1800’s represent 9% of the population.  The Mestizos, (people of mixed indigenous and European heritage) make up the largest ethnicity at roughly 60%.  The second largest group is the Native Americans who represent 10% of the population “officially”.   However, unofficially many believe the figure to be closer to 30%. The reason for the discrepancy is the federal government's policy of using spoken language rather than race as the basis of classification. But in Mexico, as in the United States and other countries in the Americas, most Native Americans no longer speak their native tongues. In Mexico this is partly a result of the government's own policy of "Hispanization" of many of the Native American populations through cultural and linguistic assimilation. Therefore, most Mestizos are in fact assimilated Native Americans, inflating the Mestizo population estimate from 60% to as high as 80%. The unfortunate endpoint for this process is the dwindling number of Native Americans as more are assimilated and as the linguistic basis of classification remains the same.[5]

Middle Easterners and Asians fill the remaining population at approximately 1 %.

A racial analysis is not a panacea for complete examination as there are several layers to this issue; Mexico’s problems aren’t completely wrapped neatly in Black and White; and of course there is the class issue.  However I contend, class and race walk in the same shoes, step for step.  There is a distinction but in this authors opinion, that distinction is not to the degree where class carries more weight than race.  I find that even within same race, classism is the root of aspiration to achieve “other” status – and that other is most often associated with Whiteness. The racial hierarchy in Mexico is very much a reality and certainly linked to the psyche of the populace -- a sentiment echoed by psychologist Samuel Ramos, who explores the psychological effects of Mexico’s, in his words, “inferiority complex”.[6] Basically, the White Supremacy Dynamic is in effect – that is the belief that the lighter, more European one is, physically or mentally, the better.  And from my vantage point, this phenomenon hits the heart of the county’s identity problem and therefore is an excellent source of national discussion.[7] 

What do these socio-economic realities have to do with Mexican cinema? Everything!  Film is Art  certainly, but film is also anthropological as oftentimes we look to cinema to see accurate reflections of society—past and present; however, throughout cinema history there are few instances that tackle, head on, national identity issues – very few films seeking to understand what a country, or a region, or a people are saying about itself.  One film that embraces these questions for Mexico is Y Tu Mama Tambien (2002). And while there have been several older films to examine race and class in Mexico, such as La Casta Divina (The Divine Caste, 1976), Cascabel (Rattlesnake, 1976), Llovizna (Drizzle, 1977), El Juicio de Martin Cortes (The Trial of Martin Cortes, 1973), I think Y Tu Mamà Tambièn represents the issue best, at least within modern times, and does so cleverly, under the creative guise of a genre film.  The genre: part road comedy, part adolescent coming of age drama.  This film by Alfonso Cuaròn is a magnificent study of race and class in Mexico utilizing standard Mexican thematic conventions and archetypes such as the virgin/ Virgin/ Whore, the long suffering wife / mother, the city vs. country, and young love / adolescent sexuality.  Cuaròn accomplishes this exploration all the while creating a unique style that weaves the characters into national signifiers then unfolds the drama in a very structural manner while also simultaneously presenting a very clear political perspective on the country as whole.  He achieves this Herculean feat by deftly articulating with his camera, the settings of each scene- both the physical, emotional (in essence illustrating a broader perspective in a much more personal technique, rather than simply following the actions and emotions of the actors, or denoting the place, instead he allows us to gather information cumulatively within a scene, giving description visually and aurally, in the way of a fiction novel).  He also uses an audio technique that I’ve never experienced, at least not in quite the same fashion – heterodiegetic narration.[8]  

This style of narration is not new, but under Cuaròn’s direction it seems very fresh, perhaps because of the intent--to politicize and illuminate the background in addition to the standard usage of informing the audience to a character’s mindset.  The Cohn brothers have used the technique with great success as well as French Filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet with his quirky romance in Amelie (2001).[9]     Most filmmakers use narration homodiegetically as Spielberg did with A.I (2001).  Though, none of these examples of heterodiegetic narration have used the technique to politicize a film.  Here is where Cuaròn differentiates himself, not only does he use narration to inform us of character traits, and intent, but the characters, in their actions, clarified heterodiegetically, inform us on the political landscape and many times in doing so it allows us insight into an unseen conflict between what the actors are doing and saying, versus the true meaning or motivation of the scene—oftentimes creating a sense of irony.

Because the narration is used in this manner it makes Y tu Mama Tambien’s structure very complex. Where on one hand it feels like a non-Hollywood film, exhibiting an outline with dual / parallel ideas as the central theme, multiple main characters, and explicit sexual situations; yet, on the other hand it is classically Hollywood exerting a solid, classical, three act, eight sequence, genre based script.

The structure is set up in classic A / B story, but there is a Co-main theme that is more grand in scope than the individual storylines which allows the narrative to break form.  Within the “A” story is the drama of the road trip and the exploits of 3 characters as friends and lovers, and within the “B” story is the young woman’s, Luisa’s, life and background. Then there’s the parallel, lets call it the “AA” story which concerns itself with the current socio-political stew that is Mexico and the critical examination of race and class with each character symbolic of a fraction of the country’s troubled history and psyche.  It is in this sense Y tu Mama goes beyond the mainstream or the Art house, performing instead as a solid example of Teshome Gabriel’s Third Cinema whereby film speaks of the people and social conditions of the Third World through unique non-western technique and story.[10]

The Story & Technique

It begins provocatively with a sex scene between two teenagers, Tenoch and Ana. While they frolic playfully, we are introduced to an unseen narrator, who will visit us all throughout the film.  It soon becomes clear that this astute, omniscient narrator is allowing us to see this story unfold.  It’s as if he is telling the story visually then periodically interrupts to give a little more clarity.  As Charles Ramirez Berg surmises, in his discussion of the Juan Oro’s Mexican classic, Cuando Los Hijos Se Van (1941), which also uses a heterodiegetic platform, the narration technique is effective because it reveals a self-consciousness that is rare in Mexican or Hollywood cinema.[11]

ACT I --THE CITY

We soon find out via the narrator that this is story of Tenoch and Julio.  Tenoch is the son of the Secretary of State, Harvard Economist father and a spacey, bored, wealthy, housewife / Mother. Julio’s pedigree is not quite as lofty.  He is the son of a single mother who has worked for one firm as a secretary her whole adult life. They are best friends and inseparable brothers; yet immediately we see the differences and possible conflict- Tenoch is rich, white, Criollo, and a part of the ruling class and Julio is not rich, dark, Mestizo, and working class. Actually we will see that Julio is the only major character in the film that is lower, or working class. He is also is the darkest of all the characters, the exception being perhaps Chuy, a fisherman, and Tenoch’s mother both though are only minor characters. Tenoch’s mother though, holds a tremendous trump card for the story.

Initially, the boys are on their way to the airport to see their girlfriends, Cecelia and Ana, off to Europe for the summer (clearly an upper class experience for 18 yr old girls). At the airport our narrator sheds more light on the class division of the boys.  Ana’s father a Criollo greets them and then the narrator gives us the father’s background: a journalist, activists and now a politician for the opposition government.  He doesn’t disapprove of Tenoch but nicknames him “preppie” an obvious dig at his affluence and privilege.   Cecelia’s pediatrician father, on the other hand clearly disapproves of Julio which is evident as Julio sits nervously on the living room couch waiting with him for Cecelia to get ready to leave for the airport. 

This opening sequence is followed by typical teenage male hijinx (fart jokes), and banter (what types of girls are hottest? Etc.), then they drive by a dead man lying in the street.   Traffic squeezes by as best it can, undeterred.  The narrator again fills in the details.  

…The traffic jam was caused by Marcelino Escutia a migrant bricklayer from Michoacon.  Marcelino was hit by a speeding bus.  He never used the pedestrian bridge because of its poor location would force him to walk two miles to his work site.   The Red Cross took his unidentified body to the city morgue. It took four days for the body to be claimed.[12]

Who was he?  A poor cog in the machine, one of the thousands of migrants from the countryside that flock to Mexico City every year looking for work and a better life. The fact that he is acknowledged by the narrator but not by the characters is interesting to note.  He is invisible in a way that only poverty can cloak. Within a city population of 20 million people, the majority of which are extremely poor, it is not very difficult to disappear into the mass of struggle.

Here is where we also see the director’s vision for the narrator and subsequently the story: to embody political consciousness and bring our attention to the world in which these young people live.

Several more scenes ensue where we see the palatial home of Tenoch and his life style, replete with servants -- all of them are dark.  In the following scene we arrive at the first crucial point of film, the point of attack - the point in the film where we are subconsciously shown the main idea of the film.[13] We meet Luisa Cortes, Tenoch’s cousin by marriage.   They have gathered for a wedding of another relative. Luisa is a Spaniard from Madrid, a point not to be taken lightly as she is the lynchpin and object of desire of the film, a critical political point that I will detail in the symbolism section of this essay.  Also here the plot is initialized – a group trip to a magical (and nonexistent) beach called Heaven’s Mouth.

Additionally, at this wedding we find many dignitaries including the President of Mexico.  Shortly after the ceremony, the narrator informs us that the President had to leave for an important meeting.

He had an urgent meeting with the leaders of his ruling party to appoint the candidates for the upcoming elections.  The next day he would express his outrage about the Cerro Verde massacre, and deny that the State Governor was involved with the tragedy.  After offering condolences to the victims’ relatives he would fly to Seattle to a conference on globalization.

Since this occurs only a few minutes after the Luisa and the Beach trip invitation, I feel comfortable asserting that the presidential information is within the fabric of the point of attack and as such states that Y Tu Mama’s main idea is also about the politics of Mexico and its place in the globalized Economy.   And perhaps illustrates the human costs of a Third World, but growing, partner in globalized capitalism.   I arrive at this conclusion because of the visuals which accompany the voice over showing the huge celebration the behind the scenes.  We see the maid staff, and drivers of the various Limousines eating their meals outside, standing up even, not important enough to have a table or even an area set aside for them in the house--an obvious exploration of classism (they are darker skinned Mestizos).  Additionally, the fact that there are still political massacres in this country dictate that Human Rights are not a given, moreover, the President’s trip to Seattle for a conference of globalization indicates where the country’s focus lay-- as well as its hypocrisy.

ACT II – ON THE ROAD—The Countryside

Once the second act begins they’re on the road. Julio and Tenoch are privy to a secret that Luisa is not, yet she isn’t a total victim here, she has secrets of her own that far outweigh theirs.  Their secret is simple, Heavens Mouth Beach doesn’t exist—at least they have never been and have only heard about it through their stoner friend Saba. It is sort of an urban myth.   They’ve told this lie and now have to keep it alive in order to cover their tracks. So they set off, but to where?  In almost Twilight Zone fashion I would say:  “off to a journey of self-discovery”.  Yet, the discovery is not only about themselves and their friendship, but also of the socio-political terrain and iconography of modern Mexico.  Hear is the triumph of the film.  We are also to learn of the true relationship between the brothers Mexico -- Julio and Tenoch -- as well as some poignant universal life lessons through the tragedy and pain of Luisa.

Luisa

Along the way to the beach, we’re continually filled with information about both Mexico on a macro level and each of the characters on a micro level.  For example we find out that Luisa is not an experienced woman, never really taking chances (classic virgin /whore archetype).  She took care of her sick acerbic aunt, got a job as a dental technician - not her dream job by far (she always wanted to travel), and then married Tenoch’s cousin Jano (also fills the long suffering, joyless wife/ mother archetype).  We don’t know her age but I will assume that she is in her early 30’s.

She decided to take this chance with the boys because of Jano’s admission of infidelity.  We assume that her isolated moments of deep sorrow that we are shown are the pain of infidelity, but there is so much more underneath her tears as we find out later in the film.  She is a very sad woman. Director of Photography, Emmanuel Lubeski’s handheld camera informs us of her emotional state by spying on her through broken windowpanes or roaming through her immaculate apartment while she waits for the boys to pick her up for the trip.  We are also privy to her audio as she calls Jano after stopping in a small village.  Instead of focusing on Luisa speaking into the phone, we are shown the emptiness of the apartment as she leaves her message in voiceover on the answering machine.  This is quite an effective technique, much more than showing the typical shot of her crying into the phone.  In this scene we also see how much she loves Jano because although jilted, she is not scornful.  She even lovingly gives him instructions – where he can find the phone bill, and that she put his shirts in the cleaners but he should go to a better drycleaner because they mess up his shirts.  She is a nurturer to the end.  Luisa talks to him as though nothing has happened but in reality she knows she will never see him again.

While at this village she meets an old woman Doña Martinez who sells little trinkets, one of which catches Luisa’s eye, a stuffed mouse with the name Luisa written on the front. 

Several scenes later as the trio leaves the village we are given the back-story by the narrator. 

…[the mouse] had belonged to [Doña Martinez’s] granddaughter, Luisa Obregon who had died of a heat stroke 15 years ago crossing the Arizona border with her parents, seeking a better life.

And although we are feeling the emotional weight and pain of Luisa loss of love, the story of the younger Luisa immediately returns us to the bigger picture, the political economy picture--the poverty of Mexico and the human cost of its struggle out of the Third World. Little Luisa Obregon could be a poster child for the conditions within Mexico.

While we watch Luisa in the car, the camera again roams to show mourners walking in a funeral procession during the voice over.

Luisa thought that even after people die, they are still present.  She wondered how long she would continue to live in the memory of others. But she preferred not to think about death.

We then can see a connection between Luisa and her issues around death.  She seems as though she is surrounded by death, almost as if death is an actual character in the film, as in Marcel Camus’s Orfeo Negro (1959).  Her first love died at 17 in a motorcycle accident, her aunt who took care of her whom she in turn took care of when the aunt fell ill, died, then later in the film she meets a little girl Lucero, who while playing in the water she asks to try floating – “…like a corpse”, later she asks the boys, “do you ever wish you could live forever”? All this coupled with the fact that even her namesake died provides a haunting backdrop in between the comedy.

Julio & Tenoch

Julio and Tenoch are the closest of friends.  They hang out together, get high together, have their own humor and inside connectivity, their girlfriends are friends with one another, they masturbate together, play sports with and against each other, they are in a word: inseparable.

Julio and Tenoch told Luisa many stories.  Each one reinforced their bond creating an inseparable identity.  Their stories, although adorned by personal mythologies were true.   But as truth is always partial, some facts were omitted.  It was never mentioned how Julio lit matches to hide the smell after he used Tenoch’s bathroom.  Or that Tenoch used his foot to lift the toilet seat at Julio’s house. 

Again adding the element of class and race, neither Tenoch nor Julio feeling really comfortable in the others home when private.

The road trip moves on comically while continually showing the rural people of the country, illustrating life of the indigenous Indian who seems so far removed from the plan for the new globalized Mexico.  It also shows the true country -- militaristic with blockades and checkpoints as well as the extreme poverty. As for the drama, it reaches a critical point – the midpoint of the script-- when Luisa in her sorrow, one day has sex with Tenoch. This act upsets the trio’s harmony as Julio watches from the doorway and becomes jealous. The jealousy comes to a boil when in an attempt to strike back at Tenoch he tells him that he slept with Tenoch’s girlfriend Ana.  

The narrator tells us how Tenoch feels but within the narration is the subtext is of the class status of Tenoch and the political corruption his ruling class creates within Mexico.

Tenoch had only felt this pain in his stomach when he was 11 when he saw his father’s photo on the front page of a newspaper.  The article linked him to a scandal involving the sale of contaminated food to the poor.  Tenoch and his family moved to Vancouver for eight months.  He never questioned why.

The next day noticing that the boys are angry at each other, Luisa decides to rectify the situation by having sex with Julio in the car.  Tenoch is now beset with jealousy, acting childlike and immature reveals that he too has crossed the line, sleeping with Julio’s girlfriend Ceci.  This blows up in a wild but comical exchange.  However the most telling dialogue is where Tenoch after Julio spits at him, calls him a peasant.  Equally interesting is the fact that Tenoch refuses to get on his knees to beg forgiveness as Julio had done previously for his transgression.  This reeks of elitism. It is trivialized as just a character flaw within the context of the friendship, or perhaps immaturity, or maybe simply for humor, but I think Cuaròn is showing us much more here.  Tenoch is privileged and deep down feels superior to darker working class, Julio.

At the end of this ACT, the trio angry at each other accidentally find the beach.  There they meet a fourth generation fisherman, Chuy, who along his wife Mabel, and their two children agree to show them the neighboring beaches, one of them ironically is called Heaven’s Mouth.

Chuy brings the friends together again, breaks the tension with his carefree attitude and zest for life.  He also serves as comic relief. But of course, within Cuaròn’s technique that is not all the fisherman represents.  Chuy gives us a glimpse into the Mexican “every man”, the Mestizo or Indigenous man that is not of the city.  He is the man that constructs Mexico in the same manner that the small town Midwesterner, not the New Yorker or Californian creates the pulse of The US.

In many ways so goes Chuy, so goes Mexico.

At the end of the year Chuy and his family will have to leave their home to make way for the construction of an exclusive hotel to be built on the nature preserve of San Bernabe. They will relocate to the outskirts of Santa Maria Colotepec. Chuy will attempt to give boat tours but a collective of Acapulco boatmen supported by the local Tourism Board will block him.  Two years later he’ll end up as a janitor at the hotel.  He’ll never fish again.

ACT III

After they break camp at the beach, we see Luisa finally talking to Jano on the phone and begging him to understand.  After that difficult conversation she joins the boys, who have now made up, drinking and dancing on the beach. During this party the boys have a truth session divulging all their dirt – Julio admits to sleeping with Tenoch’s girlfriend Ana many more times and more vigorously than he’d previously admitted to, Tenoch follows suit with his truths about him and Julio’s girlfriend Cecelia.  Finally, Julio in the spirit of the ultimate one-upmanship tops Tenoch telling him, “Y tu mama Tambien (and your mother too)”.  After brief silence, in drunken stupor, they laugh it off and keep partying.

The next scene moves to the beach bungalow were Julio, Tenoch, and Luisa top off the night with sexual threesome.  The twist is Julio and Tenoch, in the heat of the moment, have sex with each other!

Upon waking we can feel the tension: everything has changed.  Julio announces that he has to return the car to his sister.  Tenoch says he has to return as well.  Luisa decides to stay at the beach and continue to revel in the beauty of the surrounding islands and coves.  Their connection has been severed- maybe forever.

FINALE – BACK TO THE CITY

Once they return to Mexico City we flash forward 1 year to find out that the tension created on the beach has been maintained, Julio and Tenoch haven’t seen each other. Everything had indeed changed -- their girlfriends returned from Europe and promptly broke up with them, both Tenoch and Julio found new loves and went to college, and on the political front, the PRI party had lost its first election in 71 years.  One day on a chance meeting in the street they agree to have coffee as it is too awkward to put it off.  There Tenoch tells Julio of Luisa’s fate, she is dead.  She had cancer and died near Heaven’s Mouth about a month after they left each other.  She was aware she was dying all along.

The narrator finalizes her story:

Luisa spent her last four days in the hospital in Santa Maria Colotepec.  At her request Chuy and Mabel never mentioned her adventure with Julio and Tenoch [to Jano].  She gave Lucero the little stuffed mouse named Luisa. Tenoch excused himself. His girlfriend was waiting for him at he movies. Julio insisted on paying the check.  They will never meet again.

Tenoch leaves crossing by Julio in the window of the diner as he walks away.

SUMMATION / SYMBOLISM

What is the symbolism here?  Throughout this essay I have illustrated Julio and Tenoch’s racial / class symbolism, and one can add their symbolic male-ness or machismo which is evident in their sexual fantasy’s and discussions.  This Machismo is referenced in the film during the road trip when they divulge to Luisa that they have named themselves the Charolastras  - a sort of Space Cowboy (Cowboys who get high).  The Cowboy is a staple of the Mexican cinematic landscape and is the very definition of machismo.[14]  Given then homosexuality angle, this machismo is clearly violated and creates an incongruence that is never overcome throughout the film.

Here homosexuality is not treated in the same fashion as in Jaime Humberto Hermosillo’s, Utopian tolerance comedy, Doña Herlinda y su hijo (Doña Herlinda and her son, 1984).  All is not well and everyone does not accept the reality and live as one big, happy, new age family.  In our case the characters, Julio and Tenoch are ashamed, so much so that they can never be friends again, the sexual act fracturing the brotherhood forever which means on a deeper level that Mexico continues to be fractured -- the Mestizo and Criollo brothers simply can’t find the middle ground. Director Cuaròn symbolically had them “unite in the bedroom” as they should unite politically, yet because of their pride they cannot stay united thus dooming Mexico in its near future. 

Chuy’s representation continues the doom forecast for he is simply washed away -- obsolete.  His way of life broken by corporate, capitalist Mexico, forcing him to become a cog in the machine (an uneducated worker, similar to the migrant who was run over by the bus in the beginning of the film), who in order to feed his family (barely), takes on a janitor job in a hotel, working in an enclosed facility as opposed to being in the fresh air and of the earth as a “free” fisherman and merchant.  The recipe is one for disaster. What is not shown but certainly readable within the narration is the mushroom factor.  Chuy will not be able to make a living from janitor wages.  He will have to get a second or a third job; and instead of his wife and babies accompanying him on his fishing or touring outings, keeping the family tightly woven, she will have to get a job (uneducated and unskilled), perhaps as a maid or something similar.  Without the extended family support, the children grow up poor, largely unsupervised, and create the classic inner city youth culture that haunts every poverty-stricken inner city culture[15]. Thus, if Chuy is in fact, as I contend, the average “everyman” Mexican, then Cuaròn is making a bold socio political statement – Mexico, en masse, will not succeed.

Tenoch and Julio need no further explanation as to their symbolism,

Luisa on the other fills three symbolic roles and needs much further scrutiny.   The first as the modern sexualized woman -- The virgin / Virgin / whore, a role she stereotypically has to pay for her by dying a horrible death, following a long line of heroines who left their traditional roles only to be brought back to earth in one way or another.[16] She also is the long-suffering, doting lifeless wife, who beyond contentment is most importantly, responsible.  She in many ways is the mythical La Llorona the weeping woman; the only thing here missing is the children to complete the picture.[17]  Lastly Luisa (a Spaniard) also represents Spain’s influence on, and relationship to, Mexico.   In her death she is in essence emulating Spain’s current relationship to Mexico -- dead and nonexistent; however, it is still the mother country responsible for the country’s creation.  In this instance, Luisa is responsible for revealing to Julio and Tenoch that their destinies are intertwined, bringing them together in the same fashion that Spain’s colonial conquest brought together the European and Indian which then gave rise to the Criollo and Mestizo.  Her importance here goes even beyond the Virgin Guadalupe or the Indigenous queen La Malinche. Luisa is almost primordial. She is the one who shows the boys their true desire / salvation is with each other; she is the one who births their consciousness -- sexual, moral --and makes them contextualize their relationship. Then she dies mythically as Spain has died as the Mother country.

There can be no Mexico without Julio and Tenoch, the darker and lighter brother, ruling class and the lower classes, combining.   Which is why I feel ultimately the sexual tension and ultimate homosexual union between them is an effective cinema technique providing not only shock value and sensationalism, but also subtext. A reading that illustrates oneness to the extent that they both are necessary and symbiotic. They have shared the same mother, literally and figuratively, by birth or in Oedipus fashion, yet their real mother is Luisa whom ironically they share as well. I think Cuaròn is saying here that Mexico can no longer look to Spain or the developed world in general, for direction. That Mexico must turn inwards on itself, morphing into a new Mexican from its many parts in order to move forward.

Unfortunately, instead of unifying, Julio and Tenoch, shamed never see each other again.  If they “never” see each other again what happens to modern Mexico?  Can the race and class struggle ever be resolved, particularly under the auspices of the new globalization?  It seems for director Alfonso Cuaròn, the answer is a very clear, disheartening, and resounding, NO!



[1] Charles Ramirez Berg, Cinema of Solitude, University of Texas press, 1992 p.1-2

[2] ibid, p.7

[3] http://tn.essortment.com/mexicoinformati_ovo.htm

[4] ibid.

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mexico

[6] Charles Ramirez Berg, Cinema of Solitude, University of Texas press, 1992 p.3

[7] Francis Cress Welsing, The Isis Papers, Third World Press, 1991 p.1-3

[8] Gerard Genette, Narrative Discourse: An Essay in Method, Cornell University Press, 1983 p.244-245.

Narrators, according to the classifications given by Gerard Genette, can most simply be typed as "heterodiegetic" (parallel with what is commonly referred to as "third-person" narration, "with the narrator absent from the story he tells") and "homodiegetic" (parallel with "first-person" narration, "with the narrator present as a character in the story he tells").

[9] Fennessy, James, “I ain’t never supposed to do this” – Race and Narration in the films of the Coen Brothers. www.hichumanities.org/AHproceedings/James Fennessy.pdf.

[10]Teshome H. Gabriel, Towards a Critical Theory of Third World Films, in Michael T. Martin (Ed.) Cinemas of the Black Diaspora, Wayne State University Press, 1995, p 72-75.

[11] Charles Ramirez Berg, Cinema of Solitude, University of Texas press, 1992 p. 19.

[12] All narration taken directly from viewing Y tu Mamà Tambièn.

[13]Paul Gulino, Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004

[14] Pedro Infante made this role famous and usually the motif of the cowboy is somehow in reference to the beloved revolutionary period. The cowboy is  …  Charles Ramirez Berg, Cinema of Solitude, University of Texas press, 1992 p.98

[15] This population is represented by many Mexican films featuring Mexico City as its setting, but the most fascinating recent film that speaks to the youth culture is Amores Perros, (2001).

[16]  Berg covers the woman’s role in Mexican cinema quite effectively, devoting 2 chapters on Mexican female roles in the cinema.  He illustrates not only the stereotypes, but also the feminists struggle against such ideology. ibid, Chapter 4, p.55-71

[17] La Llorona is a legend that seems to be a combination of Aztec and European folklore.  Basically, she is a wandering woman who walks at night, unceasingly, looking for a lost or murdered child, or children.  Sometimes avenging an adulterous lover.  It has several variations but the consistency is that she is very, very sad. Ibid, p.78.