In the early 1970s, filmmakers Luis Valdez, Moctesuma Esparza, Jesus Trevino and Gregory Nava knew each other as young Chicanos hungry for social justice and a share of the American dream. The only tools they had to fight the oppressive political conditions they perceived were their youth, will power and emotions.
Emotion, combined with frustration, brought differences in ideology, tactics and strategy. So each went his separate way to start the struggle to overcome the odds and break into the Hollywood Establishment.
In the 1990s, no longer powerless, they have come together again, through "Chicanos '90," a collective recognition of their individual talents that took place last February in Mexico City.
Now they have buried their rusty hatchets, with the realization that their feelings for the Chicano movement and their idealism never faded.
As producer Esparza explains, "They (the ideals) have resurfaced but now at a new time and place, with the very same people, as professionals, bringing along a new generation. We are (no longer) clamoring for power. We have our own personal power."
Their power stems from their achievements, such as Valdez's "La Bamba," Esparza's "The Milagro Beanfield War," Trevino's "Raices de Sangre" and Nava's "El Norte."
Within two months of their Mexican encounter, Valdez organized what he called a "meeting of minds" in San Francisco, to plan artistic and political strategies for the future. Other Chicanos, such as Paul Espinosa, Isaac Artenstein and Joe Aubel, whose work was also honored in Mexico, were at the San Francisco meeting too. They were joined by 20 writers, directors, producers, and representatives of the National Council for La Raza, Nosotros, the Latino Writers Group, the Hispanic Academy of Media, Arts and Sciences, and the Mexican Museum of San Francisco.
Host Valdez opened the day-long meeting by introducing the participants in "Chicanos '90" and asking them to give their impressions of the memorable week. Esparza appeared to sum up the feelings of the group: "I felt for the first time that Mexico was embracing us, as truly brothers and sisters, on an equal level. It was like the prodigal son coming home."
Production designer Joe Aubel said of his colleagues, "We went (to Mexico) as individuals and came back as a group."
Valdez talked about the necessity of continuing the Chicano movement in order to fight Hollywood's racism, discrimination and stereotyping. "I'm up to here" with it, he said.
But, Valdez continued, "They made a mistake with me. They let me taste a little success and now I have my knife out. I want a bigger piece of the pie."
As one example, Valdez told his guests that he cannot understand why Hollywood refuses to issue his movie "Zoot Suit" in videotape. Others then told the meeting of their own frustrations.
The participants offered to support the newly formed Media Task Force, proposed by the National Council of La Raza, whose main purpose will be to work to improve the portrayal of Latinos in the media.
Then they moved to discuss their newly found common friend: Mexico. The culmination of "Chicanos '90" week had brought about the Fundacion Chicanos Noventas, sponsored by the Washington-based National Council of La Raza and 13 Mexican official and private organizations. Its purpose is to encourage cultural exchange between Mexican and Chicano filmmakers and artists.
The exchange includes the opportunity for Chicanos to co-produce films with Mexican movie makers. The meeting's discussion centered on how to make the most of this opportunity and what to give in return.
Mexico will provide financial support, locations, studios, contacts and inexpensive labor, participants said, in exchange for quality movie ideas that will help open the U.S. market, and assistance in modernizing production and post-production facilities.
"There's an opening here," Valdez said, "for at least the next five years of the (current Mexican government), and we should take advantage of it."
Valdez is already working on three co-productions. He would not give specifics, but one is a documentary on Chichen Itza, site of the Mayan ruins in Yucatan. Another is a six-hour miniseries on history that will be filmed largely in Mexico for U.S. television. And a movie that Valdez says he will shoot in Mexican archeological zones and in Mexico City. "It is a contemporary image of Mexico, with American characters," he says.
Esparza says, without giving details, that he is also working on two co-productions with independent Mexican filmmakers. "Nothing but mutual benefit will come out of the communication, social interaction and sharing of ideas with our Mexican colleagues," he said. "Getting to know (each other's) film work will create the environment that fosters individual cooperation."