It’s September 2010, and I should be thinking about more timely events like Mexican Independence Day and the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, or the autumn equinox and back-to-school, at the very least. Instead, I’m thinking about the Great Depression, East L.A., superheroes, and how all this has anything to do with the release this month of a movie, Machete. But it does.
The Great Depression is said to have started in September of 1929 and lasted, according to some, for as long as a decade. It was the longest and most severe economic crisis in the history of the modern world when unemployment rose to 25 percent in the United States alone, but also one that engulfed much of the world. Banks failed, wealth declined. Those were desperate, bleak years for many.
Today, we are still feeling the pangs of what’s being called the Great Recession, lingering since late 2007, though “officially” over since about June 2009. The national unemployment rate is about 10 percent; higher in California at about 12 percent; and significantly worse in East L.A. with about 18 percent unemployment according to state figures. Home values have dropped some 40 percent in East L.A. Once again, like an echo of the past, banks failed, wealth declined.
Yet, with a mostly younger population, few in East L.A. remember the Great Depression. Back then, people desperately needed a way out of the misery to be rescued, if only idealistically, from all that was wrong with the world. In truth, we needed a hero. For many, hope came with the election of Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt to the presidency. For others, it took a superhero, Superman, to inspire them towards a better vision of society.
Today, interestingly, we again look to a Democratic president, Barack Obama, for relief and reform from our national ailments. Then, if President Obama is our new hero for a hope revived, who then can be our “superhero” these days?
So, Machete is released theatrically, a new film about a Mexican immigrant day laborer and ex-federale agent who goes on a revenge rampage in Texas against his former corrupt bosses, drug lords and extremist politicians who advocate against illegal immigration. The title character slashes his way through a plot that one review called “stylishly bloody, not much else.”
Amazingly, one national magazine recently implied that Machete was “Hollywood’s first Latino superhero.” When I heard some neighborhood kids in East L.A. excited about wearing a Machete costume for Halloween after watching the movie, the significance of this seemingly insignificant connection hit me.
Superheroes inspire us. Superheroes represent the best of our values and ideals. Superheroes protect and cherish human life. Superheroes move us to believe again that doing the right thing matters. Superheroes are role models. They are enduringly meaningful.
Sorry, Hollywood, but I’m a Latino from East L.A. and Machete is NOT my superhero.
Machete represents none of that. It is merely another violent genre movie whose attempt at making commentary on social injustices affecting undocumented Latinos is secondary to its marketing… simply, violence sells. It’s not the stuff of heroes, much less superheroes.
The lesson here is that in good times or bad times those heroic icons we choose to esteem as Latinos—be they heroes or superheroes—must hold true to the high standards warranted, worthy of the significance they hold and qualities they embody. Let’s be true to those most noble of ideals, lest our future generations succumb to distorted perceptions of “the right stuff” and in doing so, betray their own potential for greatness. Let’s let our children’s hopes and aspirations know no bounds with feet planted firmly in East L.A. but their eyes drawn to the stars.
Mr. Salgado has a Masters in Business Administration and is a resident of East Los Angeles.