Migration the Failed American Dream of Immigrant Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1644 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature


The failed American dream of immigrant migration in Nava's "El Norte" synecdoche is a kind of metaphor in either film or literature where the part of something stands in for a larger whole. This literary and cinematic form of metaphor is deployed through the innovative triptych narrative technique, point-of-view, and the characterization of "El Norte" (1983), directed by Gregory Nava. The film focuses on a single family. The brother and sister of the family stand in for all of the triumphs and tribulations of all Guatemalan immigrants migrating to America in search of opportunities. The example of one, indigenous family is used to represent a larger sociological phenomenon, that of immigration from Latin American to North America in general, and the lies of the American Dream for recent migrants.

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The movie tells the story of two young indigenous Guatemalans, the brother and sister named Rosa and Enrique, and of their long trek from their beloved ancestral village, up through Mexico to "El Norte" -the United States, Los Angeles. The young people seek safety and freedom from fear. But in the land of opportunity they ironically face even more financial and physical insecurity than they did in their village. Uprooted from their way of life because of government policy, America offers them no support structure, financially or emotionally, to rebuild their existence. The first and last parts of the film end with the same, tragic image of a severed head to show this irony and the circularity of lives that illustrate the futility of migration to America.

Term Paper on Migration the Failed American Dream of Immigrant Assignment

Although the film is divided into three parts, and each section has a very different atmosphere and cinematic mood, both in terms of the appearance of the characters as well as the tone of the dialogue and depicted events, this is done to compliment the theme of the film, that no matter how far an individual travels, escaping oppression often seems futile. Of course, there is a stark visual contrast between the settings of the family's original home with their eventual plight in America. In the opening scenes of "El Norte," Rosa is seen wearing traditional, indigenous Mayan garb in the wilds of the jungle near the river. Rosa is dressed in a wild, striped color array of draped reds and browns and reds and yellows. This makes her look one with nature and the mud of the river. This stands in profound contrast with the eventual palate her residence in America, where her dingy living quarters are faded white and brown and she wears the uniform of a maid. But even in the pacific rural setting of the village, the uniform of the government's army quickly disturbs this beauty, as Rosa and Enrique's home stands in stark contrast to the beautiful, glittering lights of Los Angeles in "El Norte."

On the surface, the film manifests a classical narrative arc -- early on in the film, a problem for the main characters is established. The main protagonists are orphaned after their father Arturo, a laborer, is killed when the government repress his fellow coffee harvester's efforts to unionize and their mother 'disappears' and is presumed dead. With nothing and no one left, and fearing reprisals from a soldier that Enrique kills in self-defense, they leave the beautiful greens of the jungle and head for America in a classical example of 'rising action,' followed by the climax of their arrival in America and struggles to find a foothold in the new land. Their immigration to America is not chosen, they are not simply in search of better economic opportunities as traditional cliches might suggest rather they seek safety and refuge from their current circumstances.

The theme of compulsion and being unable to effectively resist exterior pressures in each section ensures that the film's narrative, despite its three-part construct has a circularity with a clear, beginning and an end, where one death is bracketed by another death -- Arturo's death ends the first section, Enrique's implied demise ends the second death. Each section has its own plotline, but each plotline is part of a larger narrative and symbolic story, and the stories within the story as well as the story itself have a clear sense of closure: the father rebels and dies, the children migrate to America, the children struggle, succeed, and then fail in America.

The use of symbolic images ensures that the film is both about the social plight of these two individuals and those like them but also has a timeless quality because of its mythic intensity. The narrative of immigration changes Rosa and Enrique as people forever and symbolizes the destruction of their way of life.

The commonality of their plight, to their search of a "coyote" to lead them across the border and Rosa's death resonate with the circumstances of other migrants. But because they are indigenous people, not Mexican-Americans, Nava can highlight how the region is not a monolith, and there are tensions between immigrants themselves as well as immigrants and border guards, and immigrants and individuals in the country legally. The story reveals the larger truth through the example of this one pair. The conventional assumptions about who illegal workers are and why they come are often in error. People come to America for many reasons, although they often face the same struggles. Rosa and Enrique are thus both representational as well as unique characters. Rosa and Enrique's story may be one of many Guatemalan tragedies of the period known as 'La Violencia' but some of their experiences reflect the difficulty of all immigrant, illegal workers.

There is a constant a contrast between images of poverty and wealth. In America, Rose and Enrique work in some of the poorest-paid positions for some of the wealthiest people. Enrique works as waiter at an exclusive Los Angeles restaurant. Rosa works first at a sweatshop making clothes for the wealthy and then as a maid for a rich family. Their father Arturo protested the circumstances of poor workers in Guatemala, but his children are even poorer in America, where they must go as a result of his death, and they ultimately feel a greater state of despair about their ability to find a better life. Arturo's severed head, hanging from a tree, ends the first part, and a hanging severed head ends the third part, implying a suicide after Enrique sees his sister die, untreated for her illness, because she is an illegal immigrant, despite her hard work in America.

Rosa's final words, that their only home together will be in death, not in any hopeful future despite their efforts, temporarily successful, to survive in North America, thus seems to tragically invalidate both her father's and brother's efforts. Defeat comes for Arturo at the hands of a bloody government and economically oppressive system in an external fashion, but Enrique's final reckoning is internal, articulated in the language of despair. He is killed just as surely by America's lack of opportunity as his father is murdered by government agents, and his failure to thrive becomes a condemnation of the entire American system, just as his father's death is a condemnation of the entire Guatemalan system.

The narrative style openly advocates a point-of-view, as the viewer is forced to see the world through Rosa and Enrique's eyes, rather than to see these individuals through the eyes of those they serve. The intense personalization of first the children's father's struggle, and then that of Rosa and Enrique, works against a common tendency to see illegal immigrants as faceless, nameless, and barely as individual humans because of their ethnicity and illegal status. The film suggests that immigrants must struggle to survive in a cruel land that alternately denies their existence, persecutes them for being undocumented, yet relies upon their labor by telling its story from… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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