‘Sin Nombre’ shows startling, but realistic view of immigrant life

Leia Ostermann

Brilliant and expansive cinematography captures the feel of Mexican gangs and the drive to immigrate north, but it also makes this thriller a tough watch.

“Sin Nombre,’ which translates to “without a name”, was directed by Cary Fukunaga in 2009, and is an unflinching and realistic look at the fear, violence, hate and humanity that characterizes the people of Latin America. The movie is entirely in Spanish with English subtitles, giving it a very authentic texture.

The movie follows the journey of a young Mexican gang member, El Casper, who is searching for familial connection and trying to outrun the violent nature of his gang’s method of bonding. Also on the run is Sayra, the Honduran teenager who is travelling through Latin American to cross the border and make it to America, the promised land of blessings.

The raw observations in this movie, with the portrait of thousands of destitute families heading north atop trains was a resonating picture of a frighteningly realistic lifestyle.

The movie was shown in the Multi-Cultural Center, next to the library at Sacramento State. After the viewing, Hellen Lee-Keller, English professor, and Elvia Ramirez, ethnic studies professor led a discussion on the heavy topics exhibited in this film.

The violence and hyper-masculinity displayed in the Mexican gangs is one of the most disturbing images that the group of 20 students and professors discussed.

The group talked about how the entire movie revolved around family ties and bonds. The gang was an example of a family-model that is based on violence.

“Violence becomes the primal moment of bonding in the gang community,” Ramirez said.

In the beginning of the movie, the gang leader is shown as being a father-figure to the children already caught up in the gang life. The family of Sayra is also shown looking out for each other and being a tight-knit, migrant family.

“These bonds are juxtaposed so we can compare them. The rest of the film is consumed with the breakdown of bonds. They completely fall apart during the course of the film,” Ramirez said.

The social commentary in the movie is also unavoidable. The class system in Mexico is represented as contributing to a larger system of exploitation, reaching into the immigration system of America.

“If you only live in a limited world, it becomes easy to be trapped. There are no alternatives presented or accessible. Thus you must operate within the space you are given,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez explained how the movie also dealt with the issue of personal identity.

“Social formation impacts your identity,” Ramirez said.

Pointing to the gang tattoos for example, Ramirez explained how they are exterior signs of interior scarring from violence.

“Violence becomes a way to measure self esteem,” Ramirez said. “The feeling of disempowerment leads to using violence as a way to feel empowered. The only escape is to seek the opportunities here that we take for granted.”

The movie and discussion event is part of Sac State’s One Book program. This theme of dealing with the multi-cultural issues in migration is being discussed by the entire campus. The Multi-Cultural Center is hosting a movie and discussion on the first Thursday of every month at 5 p.m. to showcase particular lifestyle issues as a part of this theme.

“This is not just a Mexican of Latin American issue but an issue for all of us,” Ramirez said.

It is a tough watch, but one of the best and most thoughtful films regarding this large social issue.

Leia Ostermann can be reached at [email protected]