Spanglish: a film about the integration between two worlds

The encounter between Mexican and North American cultures

The young Flor (Paz Vega), mother of a 12-year-old daughter (Cristina), leaves Mexico for Los Angeles. For the love of her daughter, she decides to start working as a housekeeper in the Clasky house, a wealthy family in Beverly Hills. The charming Mexican woman finds herself involved in the daily life of this family: the couple in crisis formed by the chef (Adam Sandler) and his wife (Tea Leoni), in perfect physical shape but perpetually hysterical, and their two children (Bernice and Giorgie ).

Director James L. Brooks emphasizes the encounter between two cultures (Mexican and North American) in the peculiar multiculturalism that distinguishes American society, in which cultural contamination and contrast are mixed on multiple levels.

Without pretending to do an exhaustive analysis, I highlight three aspects of the film that caught my attention from an intercultural point of view.

  • Language as a barrier to integration

    Flor Moreno arrives in Los Angeles without speaking a word of English and for years lives in a Hispanic bubble within the city, trying to recreate an environment as similar as possible to the one she left, so as not to feel homesick. This means that she lives for 6 years in a parallel world, which she will leave only when, for the love of her daughter, she accepts the job in the Beverly Hills family home, forcing herself to face the world outside the bubble. In a first phase she will rely heavily on her daughter's language skills , and then start studying English at a fast pace and gradually integrate into the new life.

    Living in a linguistic and consequently social bubble, often characterizes also the life of expats, who in countries culturally distant from their own tend to group together, creating a world apart, made up of rules, habits and customs that have nothing to do with the local culture. This attitude, which is absolutely understandable when dealing with an important cultural gap, however, risks precluding that integration into the local culture which represents the most enriching part of the experience.

  • Children as a link between two cultures

    This film highlights how the new generations often have the role of bringing parents closer to the culture of the host country. On the one hand, the desire of parents to achieve the best for their children, on the other hand the greater ease of language learning of their children, their daily confrontation with the peer group and their desire to belong, help to create the basis for a gradual integration into the local social fabric. In the case of economic immigration, such as that of Flor and Cristina, this phenomenon is often accompanied by that of social redemption, which the scholastic success of the children makes possible.

  • Integration does not mean assimilation

    Referring to Berry's model of cultural adaptation, we can observe how Flor initially does everything to avoid any contact with American culture and takes refuge in her culture of origin, implementing a real separation strategy, while her daughter Cristina, attracted by the lifestyle of the family her mother works for, risks losing her cultural identity by completely immersing herself in the new world and making the values of American culture her own, from private school to shopping, implementing a strategy of cultural assimilation. This contrast is a reason for a clash between mother and daughter, who adopt opposite strategies of acculturation. Emblematic is Flor's question to his daughter during one of their discussions: “Are you really sure you want to become something so different from me?”.

    The whole plot of the film then revolves around the search for a balance between maintaining one's cultural identity and adapting to the host country, between the daughter's desire to conquer the new world and the mother's concern to keep her origins. A balance that is called integration. The sentence that concludes Cristina's application letter at Princeton University is symbolic: "Your acceptance, while it would thrill me, will not define me. My identity rests firmly and happily on one fact: I am my mother's daughter."

Read the articles on Expats and the world of Intercultural Mind

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