Continuing my Friday short film series on underrepresented American bi-cultural walks of life, I’m so happy to share this documentary short film, Mexican Fried Chicken by Ivete Lucas and Otis Ike. It’s a glimpse into the laborious life and overloaded pressures of Moises, a 14 year old teenager who in between his job at Popeyes, working at his father’s shop, and as the oldest having to babysit his siblings and other endless house chores, struggles to find time to enjoy being a teen in the United States. Like Moises, genuine and transparent, the film captures what is culturally specific of the sacrifices and work ethic of first generation Mexican Americans. The unquestioned acceptance that we have to work harder and longer hours than anyone else in order to carve out a spot for our families. In just 13 minutes we get a real sense of Moises and his disarming good-nature, ambition and his radically unique hybrid brand of American culture is charming. Overhearing the family’s shouting and playing throughout the house sliding back and forth from English to Spanish, all of this makes me cringe with empathy and I get a pang of childhood nostalgia even. I never see this experience reflected save for in my own memories. Back in Chicago, when my dad got the pink slip from Boeing after 15 years of work, my parents decided to open up a restaurant with the savings. Naturally it was a family affair and so I had no choice in the matter but to help. I vividly remember a creeping resentment and alienation knowing that my friends were hanging at the mall, carefree while I had to work right after school, and on weekends full 12 hour days. Yet I wouldn’t exchange that experience for the world. Making the homemade salsas and preparing the chile rellenos as the Nortena music blasted on the radio, we cultivated a loyal clientele with an appetite and appreciation for our authentic food, which in turn gave me a special feeling and bi-cultural pride.
I reached out to filmmaker Ivete Lucas who was born in Brazil, grew up in Monterrey, Mexico and moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas. She made this short as part of her MFA in Film studies. First watch the short and read on for a quickie Q&A I did with her over email.
How did you find and get to know and gain this family’s trust?
My producer, and now husband, Otis Ike initially met the Macedos through his aunt in Austin, TX. They live next to her and partied every weekend, blasting Mexican music. He made friends with the kids a few years before, and introduced me to them in 2009. Since I am Mexican, I could speak with them in Spanish. And although the kids speak perfect English, their parents don’t, so I helped them communicate with the neighbors. Moises was 13 at the time and he was about to start High School. He is an intelligent young man and was accepted into a very good school. His mom explained to me that he got good grades while working two jobs. I was very impressed by Moises, so hard working at such a young age, and I was extremely sad when he told me that he didn’t know if he could go to college because he didn’t have the right papers. So I asked them if I could make a movie about them. From that day on, I spent many afternoons at their house with a camera in my hands. They eventually got used to the camera and my presence. They knew they could talk to me in English or Spanish, that they could ignore me or engage me if they wanted to. I did everything I could to make them feel comfortable. They allowed me to be part of their world, and Moises made me his confidant.
How much footage did you shoot and over how long a period of time?
It was about two months of hanging out with Moises’ family two or three times a week. It must have been about 30 hours of footage.
Was there anything that surprised you during the shoot of the film? Some revelation or insight you had from meeting this family and bringing this story to light?
I edited this film in a way that allows audience to experience the same surprises I had. Latinos have this will of gold. Life can hit us hard, but we are tough and we usually make it through. Sometimes it really hurts, but we always find the way to laugh and enjoy what we have. I’ve seen a lot of films made about Latinos facing hardships and they are usually bleak or angry. As a Latina, I wanted to make a film that reflected how we really deal with pain. Yes, we cry and get angry, but then we invite our friends over for carne asada and we dance, knowing that we’ll have to put up a fight tomorrow.
Ivette says that Moises is currently exploring college and is interested in applying to Texas State. Best of luck to Moises, and thanks Ivete for the q&a. Looking forward to seeing more of your work! Ivete is currently finishing up a documentary about Vietnam war reenactors, and just completed a new short shot in Mexico and with the collaboration of the Huichol tribe. It’s called Ex-Votos. Check it out here: