Pocha (Manifest Destiny)

A review/manifesto by William Alexander Yankes
Where's home?

This is the film’s central question. Within this notion of belonging, of being, and the deeply anguishing frustration of becoming lies an ambiguous and worse, a slippery sense of identity. This is implied in the film’s subtext. It can also be read in the leading actress’ gaze that a generations-long conflict filled bi-national political history has created a form of apartheid between Anglos and marginalized US Mexicans. This slow-simmering social development is itself a form of rot in a population that has lived and migrated for centuries across this land, an anthropological pattern that pre-dates the nation state and the still-wounding 1848 US-Mexican border clash that has spilled over to present-day economic, drug trade, cultural ghetto-izing and migration complexities.

Unstated but etched in the collective consciousness, these issues fester in “Pocha’s” psyche. Verónica Sixtos plays Claudia, a Mexican-born twenty-something, US-raised young woman of full-blooded Mexican ancestry. We know her mother settled in the United States without legal documentation bringing with her baby Claudia, who grew up speaking American English like a “gringa.” She understands Spanish but can’t speak it. Claudia’s circumstance sets her adrift emotionally from her bi-national cultural moorings. Her sense of belonging to a particular country is cast to the winds.

A devastating family crisis prompts Claudia to attempt something radical. She finds herself experiencing life on both sides of the US-Mexican border facing national identity issues. It becomes known that she has done something wrong. Her father hasn’t seen her since her mother took her away as a baby to migrate north. Father and daughter harbor a deep contempt for each other. Julio Cedillo plays Claudia’s father, who calls her Pocha. He tells her to her face that the nickname means rotten fruit. It happens to also mean US-born of Mexican ancestry. It also suggests that Mexican Americans, “pochos,” have long been viewed as rotten fruit forgetting the disenfranchisement they have suffered in American society leading many of them to waste away.

A fruit rots on the ground when it’s not picked up in a timely fashion. People also rot when their potential is not appreciated and utilized at the opportune time; when their lives wither away in a society where they are not allowed to thrive. People, whose opportunities have been crippled, rot like wasted fruit when crime is the only option left to them. It is this image of rot that brands Claudia.

Alicia Dwyer, the film’s executive producer, said that the film’s subtitle, “Manifest Destiny,” subverts the historical meaning of the term implying American imperialism by making it Claudia’s personal decision.

“Pocha” is a thriller action film. It is often subtitled in both languages. Unlike so many Hollywood movies of the past, this production has the qualities of an auteur’s film. It is a movie crafted from a vision of courage and social change. The script and the strong acting of its cast members reveal the intelligence of the population to whom they give voice. 

Written by Kaitlin McLaughlin and directed by Michael Dwyer, this movie shuns cultural stereotypes that have long shaped and steeled public opinion into “othering” our southern neighbors –great numbers of whom are among us making the American Dream possible. This film transcends xenophobia and gives a sense of the plight endured by Mexicans and other Latin American migrants attempting to survive in the United States during the current political culture that keeps millions of undocumented Mexicans legally and, therefore, economically trapped. Consequently, their personal dignity as descendants of a pre-Columbian culture in a country that was once theirs is impinged upon.

At a difficult moral juncture threatened by violence, the grandmother asks in Spanish something along these lines: “Are you a criminal or are you decent? There is no halfway point.”

“Pocha” is a richly layered film. It defies women’s traditional secondary roles and gives Mexicans a dignified image, even when viewed as pariahs. Claudia’s latest circumstance and the option she is for once free to choose exposes her to a surprising outcome.

While this is a rough movie to watch, its inner currents reveal values cherished by people in the United States. This film underscores the Mexican country folk spirit as rooted in family values, pride and resilience. Reach the writer at WilliamAlexanderYankes.com


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