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The Best Movies That Capture The Mexican-American Experience

Updated May 21, 2021 168 votes 25 voters18 items

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. 

  • 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: Jennifer Lopez, Mary Steenburgen, Constance Marie, Edward James Olmos, Jimmy Smits
    • Released: 1995
    • Directed by: Gregory Nava
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  • 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: Andy Garcia, Edward James Olmos, Lou Diamond Phillips, Estelle Harris, Carmen Argenziano
    • Released: 1988
    • Directed by: Ramón Menéndez
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  • 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, Constance Marie, Edward James Olmos, Alex Meneses, Jon Seda
    • Released: 1997
    • Directed by: Gregory Nava
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  • Photo: Real Women Have Curves / Newmarket Films

    America Ferrera got her breakout role in Real Women Have Curves. She plays Ana, a first generation Mexican-American adolescent who dreams of going to college and becoming a writer. Her mother, however, wants her to come work at a sewing factory to help support the family. 

    The film, which was released in 2002, deals with economic issues immigrants face, as well as the idea that America is a place where people can come and pursue their dreams. 

    • Actors: America Ferrera, George Lopez, Lupe Ontiveros, Soledad St. Hilaire, Marlene Forte
    • Released: 2002
    • Directed by: Patricia Cardoso
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