Categorized | Jewish History, Pollack_Mimi

Lecturer traces Jewish influence on Mexican cinema

By Mimi Pollack

Mimi Pollack

LA JOLLA, California — “Hybrid Culture.” Those words resonated with me because I was brought up in a hybrid culture.  On Wednesday, May 9, there was an interesting platica [discussion] given at the Lawrence Family JCC by Isaac Artenstein, a well-known producer, writer, and director of such movies as A Day without a Mexican and documentaries like Tijuana Jews. Artenstein also teaches at UCSD.

His passion is documenting life on both sides of the border. He is also a product of a hybrid culture, a Jew who grew up in Tijuana, and graduated from UCLA.

In his discussion about “Jews in Mexican Cinema” and the influence they had, Artenstein said that most of the great producers in Mexico [as in the United States] were of Jewish descent.

He showed clips from various films, including Baisano Jalil starring Joaquin Pardavé.  It is about the life of a good-hearted Middle Eastern peddler. The movie was made in the early 1940’s during the “Golden Age” of Mexican Cinema. In 1942, the producers were nervous about openly showing a Jewish peddler to the general population, so Jalil was portrayed as an Arab immigrant. On a side note, my  former husband was a Mexican actor in the 1960’s who was encouraged to change his last name, so it “would not sound Jewish”.

The first movie that portrayed the Jewish immigrant experience in Mexico, Novia Que Te Vea {May I See You As A Bride} was made in 1994. Based on the book by Rosa Nissan and directed by Guita Schyfter, that movie is a personal favorite of mine because it not only reminded me of my older sister, but also of Angelica Aragon who plays the mother.   She and I went to school together in our youth.

The movie affectionately portrayed the experiences of immigrants arriving in Mexico as well as of their Mexican-born children. It showed how Jews growing up in Mexico lived between two worlds: Catholic and Jewish.

It also examined the modern world clashing with  tradition, and the tensions between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, something that happened much more in Mexico than in the United States.  I wish Artenstein had spoken more on this subject as he himself is a product of such a “mixed marriage.”

Finally, one of the families portrayed in the movies was Turkish, thus part of the movie was in Ladino, a language that has always fascinated me. It was a good choice to show us, and I highly recommend this movie.

The next two movies were dark comedies, set in present-day Mexico. My Mexican Shiva can be summed up as Mariachis meet Kletzmer, a funny movie about the experiences of a family sitting shiva and all that happens during those days of mourning.

Nora’s Will is about how a mother’s suicide affects her divorced husband, and her family. That movie won several “Arieles” which are the Mexican Oscars.

Both movies touch upon culture and the collision of Jewish and Mexican ways, and their strong beliefs and superstitions about death. They are a good introduction for someone who wants to know more about Jewish experiences in Mexico.

The last film discussed was Tijuana Jews,  a wonderful documentary by Artenstein himself. It is a personal look at the lives and history of the Jews in Tijuana. I found it so interesting, I bought the DVD!

Artenstein gave a charismatic presentation about a subject that is near and dear to his heart.

Pollack is a freelance writer who focuses on cross-cultural issues.


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Copyright 2012 San Diego Jewish World

5 Responses to “Lecturer traces Jewish influence on Mexican cinema”

  1. Eugenia says:

    Very good article! Captured the essence of the presentaion, and the experience we shared of the life of the Jews in Mexico. I hope to read more articles like this one.

  2. vivian says:

    An illuminating review, wish i had seen this program.
    I’m intrigued enough to look for these movies elsewhere, perhaps even buy them.

  3. Mimi Pollack says:

    Thank you Genya and Vivi! 🙂

  4. We’d love to know if Artenstein will be speaking in Baja or San Diego any time soon!

    • Mimi Pollack says:

      So sorry, but I don’t know. I don’t know him personally, but we are in contact via email, and I asked him to keep me in the loop if possible.


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