RTF students find inspiration, representation in Mexican culture

Sarai Cantu, Life and Arts Reporter

This article first appeared in the Feb. 14, 2022 flipbook.

Growing up with his abuelita, Marlon Rubio said he remembers his childhood as the happiest time of his life, surrounded by love, family and, best of all, movies. 

“What films are, at the end of the day, is entertaining,” said Rubio, a radio-television-film sophomore. “A way for people to get out of their own realities, just like I used to as a kid.”

While films offered Rubio an opportunity to explore both his passion and escape from reality, he said many of the movies he grew up with didn’t represent him. Now, he said he dreams of bringing representation to his culture. While Mexican directors are scarce, with a ratio of 50 white males to each Latinx director, according to USC Annenberg, dedicated RTF majors like Rubio intend to change this disparity and mend the absence of Mexicans in film with their stories. 

“Because of the love I feel towards my culture, (there’s) an obligation to do something worth my love and (capture) what it means to be a Mexican,” Rubio said.

According to a study at the University of Southern California, only 3.5% of films have a Hispanic and/or Latinx lead. When Mexican characters are presented incorrectly, Rubio said they harm the image of Mexicans and perpetuate Hollywood molded stereotypes, such as in Despicable Me 2.

“We have the fat owner of a Mexican restaurant with a chicken (who) becomes a monster at the end of the film,” Rubio said. “What are you saying to the kids watching that?” 

Rubio said he often feels imposter syndrome because of the lack of diversity on campus, which consists of only 24.2% Hispanic students, according to UT Facts and Figures. When feeling alienated in the classroom, he remedies his anxieties by admiring Mexican directors who create masterpieces while representing their Mexican culture in an accurate and beautiful way.

“Every time, I look at a picture of Alfonso Cuaron and think to myself, ‘I can do it,’” Rubio said. 

Radio-television-film sophomore Miguel Araiza said he sees a clear lack of representation in his predominantly white major and plans to address that disparity by telling stories of marginalized groups. 

“I see movies from a cultural lens,” Araiza said. “Maybe Americans see it as political, but it’s my identity. I want to include stories about marginalized people in Mexico. There are stories that aren’t told and are important.”

Recognizing his privilege as a white Mexican, Araiza acknowledges cherry-picking actors by skin color is a major issue in the film industry, noting that he rarely sees dark-skinned Mexicans on screen. Instead of typecasting the same actors in stereotypical roles, Araiza hopes to see more Mexican actors and artists in the media. 

“But Mexicans also are very complex,” Araiza said. “There just needs to be more roles created, not erased.”

Edgar Valles, a radio-television-film freshman from Brownsville, said he first experienced true disappointment when watching movies with majority white casts as a child.

“I remember as a kid always wondering why I didn’t look like any of the characters on screen,” Valles said. “I couldn’t really see myself on screen since almost all actors were white Latinos.”

Valles said stories told with the influence of Mexican culture and history provide a unique view on age-old themes and deserve to be told properly.

“Mexican culture has great things about it, from its livelihood and appreciation of life to its understanding of darker things like loss and death,” Valles said. “It’s about appreciating things around you. Echarle ganas, to keep going, even in difficult times.”