Yesterday, I honored Oscar winners as my immigrants of the day. Today, I'm writing about a nominee who deserves mention as well. Demián Bichir is a Mexican-born actor who was nominated this year for Best Actor in a Leading Role against Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Jean Dujardin and Gary Oldman. Bichir plays an illegally present immigrant in the film A Better Life, the story of a man who tries to keep his teenage son away from gangs and immigration agents in Los Angeles. My friend Dan Kowalski writes about the importance of Bichir's nomination on his blog at LexisNexis:
While I believe the Academy gave Demián a tap on the shoulder for all the right reasons -- mainly the strength of his performance -- there is an effect beyond Hollywood of which it may not be aware.
I saw it on the front pages of Spanish language newspapers around the country, which greeted Demián's nomination as a stirring validation of the humanity of the character he played and a source of great pride. And I heard it at the screening we did for the National Day Laborers Organizing Network, where 200 hard-working people, some who had traveled at the risk of being apprehended and deported, felt that they had been treated as first-class human beings rather than parasites.
The battle over immigration reform is fought with numbers, but the ground of the battle is an emotional landscape. Over the past few months we've seen the Republican candidates use undocumented immigrants as a rhetorical punching bag, secure in the knowledge that they can't fight back.
Why? Because an undocumented immigrant is afraid to draw attention to himself. Although they are, on the whole, tremendously industrious, family-oriented, God-fearing and deeply invested in this country through familial ties, they are living on a razor's edge. The edge is, if anything, made sharper by draconian and politically self-serving laws like Alabama's HB56 and its cousins in Arizona and Georgia.
Bichir comes from an acting family in Mexico (his parents and two brothers are all actors). He has starred in numerous films in Mexico and is one of his native country's most famous actors. But he's also gaining greater attention here in the US. He played a major role on the highly popular Showtime series Weeds, is featured in an upcoming John Travolta film and is in talks with Woody Allen for an upcoming film by the great director.
But it's Bichir's own immigration story that reminds us why we need to remember the tremendous human potential of those we prevent from becoming Americans through our harsh immigration policies. Bichir came to America many years ago as an illegal immigrant and it was the 1986 so-called amnesty program that allowed him to gain a legal status in America. According to ABC News:
Demian Bichir learned an important lesson when he left his native Mexico to launch a U.S. acting career and ended up working in a Mexican restaurant in New York: How to live the invisible life of an illegal immigrant with dignity.
It's a subtle quality he brings to his Oscar-nominated role of Los Angeles gardener Carlos Galindo in the movie "A Better Life."
Like Galindo, Bichir came to the U.S. illegally. The U.S. amnesty program in 1986 put him on the road to a Green Card. The character he plays is not so lucky, trying to climb the rungs from day worker to owner of a gardening business while keeping his American-born teenage son from street gangs.
"It was important for me to relate to that time when I arrived in New York," Bichir told The Associated Press. "Carlos Galindo's dignity is similar to all those 11 million undocumented workers in U.S. They live their lives with ... that power and that passion, and they never give up. That's me."
Congratulations Mr. Bichir on your success and thank you for the hope your story and your work provides millions of people in this country.