The Best Movies That Capture The Mexican-American Experience

The best Mexican-American movies provide real insight into a cross-culture experience. Some of them are very specific, dealing with an individual person of note or a select subgroup of people. Others, meanwhile, are more universal, getting at themes that speak to a majority of people from such a background. 

Diversity is important onscreen, and a number of directors have made a point of capturing different elements of the Mexican-American experience. Allison Anders, Gregory Nava, and Alfonso Arau have all made Chicano films. No matter who's behind the camera, one thing viewers can count on is that these pictures are almost always made with real passion. They aren't just high-concept fluff. Instead, they exist to tell stories about people, and to hit on ideas that are relevant to society. 

Which are the best? Which famous Mexican-American comedies, dramas, and romances have the most worthwhile things to say? You will get to decide that. Vote up the movies that best capture the Mexican-American experience. 

  • Stand and Deliver
    Photo: Stand and Deliver / Warner Bros.

    Stand and Deliver is the 1998 movie about a math teacher named Jamie Escalante (Edward James Olmos) working at an East Los Angeles high school with a large Hispanic population. He defies expectations by teaching his students advanced calculus.

    Based on a true story, the film looks at educational inequality for Hispanic students, while also celebrating the value of a dedicated instructor. 

    • Actors: Edward James Olmos, Lou Diamond Phillips, Rosanna DeSoto, Andy Garcia, Will Gotay
    • Released: 1988
    • Directed by: Ramón Menéndez

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  • 2
    33 VOTES
    La Bamba
    Photo: La Bamba / Columbia Pictures

    La Bamba is a 1987 biopic of singer Ritchie Valens, who gave the world a few unforgettable hit songs before tragically perishing in a plane crash. Although his music career is the focal point of the film, time is also spent showing him with his extended family. His relatives have varying reactions to his success. Some are proud of him, others resentful.

    Also of note in La Bamba is how it shows the difficulty Valens faced in breaking out as a Hispanic pop star, when the music industry of the 1950's was overwhelmingly Caucasian. 

    • Actors: Lou Diamond Phillips, Esai Morales, Rosanna DeSoto, Elizabeth Peña, Danielle von Zerneck
    • Released: 1987
    • Directed by: Luis Valdez

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  • 3
    22 VOTES
    My Family
    Photo: My Family / New Line Cinema

    Gregory Nava's 1995 drama My Family begins in the late 1920s, as a Mexican man named Jose (Jacob Vargas) makes the trek from Mexico to Los Angeles. He meets and marries a nanny named Maria (Jennifer Lopez), and together they begin raising a family. She is eventually deported back to Mexico. Later, the story jumps to the '60s, where one subplot follows Jose and Maria's now-grown son Jimmy (Jimmy Smits) as he begins his own family after marrying a woman to prevent her deportation. The lives of their other children are also shown.

    My Family was heralded by critic Roger Ebert, who summed up its core strength in saying it is "is the great American story, told again and again, of how our families came to this land and tried to make it better for their children."

    • Actors: Jimmy Smits, Esai Morales, Eduardo López Rojas, Jenny Gago, Elpidia Carrillo
    • Released: 1995
    • Directed by: Gregory Nava

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  • 4
    32 VOTES
    Photo: Selena / Warner Bros.

    Selena was much more than a pop singer in the Mexican-American community. She was a full-fledged icon -- loved, adored, and worshipped by millions. Jennifer Lopez plays her in this biopic that charts the course of her skyrocketing career, which brought Tejano music into the maintstream.

    Aside from effectively depicting how she rose to such prominence, the film gets into the profound sense of loss the Mexican-American community felt upon her untimely demise after being slain by a friend and business partner. The cumulative effect is that viewers come away with a strong sense of what she meant to so many. 


    • Actors: Jennifer Lopez, Edward James Olmos, Jon Seda, Constance Marie, Jacob Vargas
    • Released: 1997
    • Directed by: Gregory Nava

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  • 5
    18 VOTES
    Zoot Suit
    Photo: Zoot Suit / Universal Pictures

    Zoot Suit is based on a true story. Daniel Valdez plays Henry Reyna, the leader of a Mexican-American gang. He and his cohorts are convicted of murder. However, the charges may have been trumped up. 

    The film addresses racism against Mexican-Americans, with the characters presumed guilty as much for their race as for any criminal activity they've partaken in. In depicting this actual event, it explores prejudice often faced by Hispanics. 

    • Actors: Daniel Valdez, Edward James Olmos, Tyne Daly, Charles Aidman, John Anderson
    • Released: 1981
    • Directed by: Luis Valdez

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  • 6
    13 VOTES
    Photo: Walkout / Home Box Office

    Walkout dramatizes an important moment in the history of Mexican-American students. Based on a true story, it shows a large group of Chicano students staging a school walkout to protest inequality within the educational system. Specifically, they feel punishments for Mexican students are unnecessarily harsh, and they object to a lack of bilingual textbooks. 

    As in the film, the real-life walkout was successful. This story shows some of the struggles Mexican-American students have faced in America's public schools. 

    • Actors: Alexa Vega, Laura Harring, Edward James Olmos, Michael Peña, Efren Ramirez
    • Released: 2006
    • Directed by: Edward James Olmos