'L ike Water for Chocolate," set in Mexico in 1910, centers on the youngest of three sisters, Tita, whom tradition requires to forgo marriage. Her boyfriend marries Tita's older sister, Rosaura (Arizmendi), in order to stay near Tita--and strange things begin to happen.
The film didn't just provide Arizmendi with a screen husband and a professional breakthrough, it also led her to her real-life mate. She and Sergio--the filmmaker's son from a marriage prior to Esquivel--met and married while Arizmendi was in Mexico working on the movie.
At first, the couple stayed in Mexico, though Arizmendi wasn't happy there. "I became exasperated," she says. "It's difficult to understand the cultural codes--when 'yes' means 'yes' and when 'yes' means 'no.' I would come home crying from the bank and Sergio couldn't understand why."
They knew they had to leave. "I no longer belonged cleanly and neatly in Mexico City, unless I was willing to totally change my expectations," says Arizmendi. "The things that I want to do with my life--have a career as an actress and be an intellectual--I cannot get Mexico to let me do."
She couldn't get her career going in Mexico, partly because she lacked the kind of affiliations that lead to work. "Everything is connections," she says. "I needed a job and I couldn't find it because I had not spent those formative years in Mexico, making those connections in my generation."
Arizmendi was offered a teaching post at Cal State San Marcos and the couple moved to San Diego in 1992. But they soon found they were spending too much time commuting to Los Angeles, so they moved again last August.
Paradoxically, because she appeared in a popular Mexican film, people in L.A. have often taken Arizmendi for a stranger to the U.S. "It's ironic: Because of 'Like Water for Chocolate,' I'm sort of recognized in the United States as a Mexican actor. Very seldom do people know that I've been here," says the actress, who also appeared in the 1994 made-for-TV movie "The Cisco Kid."
Yet as difficult and aggravating as the process of cultural relocation may be at times, Arizmendi has also found it rewarding. To reinforce that point, she offers a characteristically comic metaphor: "When you wax your legs, it's so violent, you rip the hairs out," she says. "Once, somebody was saying 'It's so painful, I can't believe you women do that.' But you know, the roots get weaker. And so the more you do it, the less it hurts. I thought, 'Is that not a metaphor for your life, Yareli?' The more you uproot yourself, the less painful it is."
"NOSTALGIA MALDITA" and "KNOW YOUR PLACE,"Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., downtown. Dates: Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends July 15. Price: $13. Phone: (213) 485-1681.