Thursday, December 13, 2012

Louis Mendoza’s "A Journey Around Our America"

Louis G. Mendoza is a professor and Chair of the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies, as well as an Associate Vice Provost in the Office for Equity and Diversity at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He is the author and editor of numerous essays and several books, including, Conversations Across our America: Talking About Immigration and the Latinoization of the United States, raúlrsalinas and the Jail Machine: My Weapon is My Pen, and Crossing into America: The New Literature of Immigration.

Here he shares some ideas about adapting his latest book, A Journey Around Our America: A Memoir on Cycling, Immigration, and the Latinoization of the U. S., for the big screen:
A Journey Around Our America is premised on a non-athlete, non-cyclist (me) spending 5 months and 19 days riding around the perimeter of the US through 34 states talking to people about immigration and the Latinoization of the country. Though it revolves centrally around one person’s experience, it’s really a story about the country as a whole through the lens of these two issues. If it were made into a movie, it would need a director who knows people in all their variety and quirkiness—because no one individual is the main character, rather the collectivity as a whole embodies the persona of what it is to be American in these times. Two possibilities would be John Sayles and Jim Mendiola. Much more established but still very much the Indie filmmaker, Sayles has an ability to insert deep, local histories and the way this manifests within individuals into his films. He understands the idiosyncrasies of regional dynamics, the good and evil in humanity, the strength and resilience of survivors, and how all these dynamics play out among social groups. While Mendiola’s craft isn’t as finely honed, he has shown that he can capture a story with wit, subtlety, and irony. Either of these directors could take on a topic as unwieldy and controversial, and many-sided as immigration, but I suspect they would have very, very different takes on it, with Sayles capturing the pathos of our collective inability to resolve this issue with any compassion or sense of responsibility, while Mendiola would highlight the dark humor of the cast of characters a la David Byrne’s True Stories.

I could see cameo experiences by a number of recognizable Latina/o actors and actresses, but in many respects, this book is about everyday people who’s voices we don’t ordinarily hear from, so star power isn’t as important as authenticity of character. Of course, we would need a middle aged, Latino, professorial type to play the protagonist. Ruben Blades, Luis Guzman, Jesse Borrego, or Jacob Vargas, in order of age, could all fit the bill. Though there is quite a variety of age among these actors, I think that the precise age matters less (I was 47 when I took the trip) than an actor who can convey sincerity, thoughtfulness, humor, and introspection by externalizing the emotions that accompanied the spiritual, political, personal, and psychological challenges of the journey. For the audience’s sake, someone who is nice to look at and listen to would be a bonus!
Learn more about A Journey Around Our America at the University of Texas Press website.

The Page 99 Test: A Journey Around Our America.

--Marshal Zeringue