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Born in East La

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At the end of Cheech Marin's Born in East L.A. (1987), a pair of undocumented Chinese immigrants who have been trained by Rudy (Marin) in the art of walking, talking, and gesturing like Mexican-Americans successfully act Mexican-American in front of a police officer to convince and assure him that they indeed are "natives."

Of concern to both Lowe and Oboler is the unequal status of minorities as members of the United States national community and citizenry. Basically, the U.S. citizen has been defined as a white male. This subsequently has meant that especially persons of color have been "conceived in the popular mind as outside of the 'boundaries' of the 'American' community" (Oboler 19). Thus, persons of color are denied "the extension of full citizenship rights" (Oboler 28); they are denied protection of their "privileges and. . . local body" (Berlant 113).

Fregoso indicates that with Born in East L.A. Cheech Marin parodies the second level of meaning at which "'Born in the USA' had been disarticulated from its signifying elements of working-class discourse and rearticulated as an expression of racist and patriotic discourse" (56). Marin basically uses to his advantage the nativist logic which results in "Born in the USA" being taken to signify "foreigners (or non-whites) go home" (Fregoso 56). His objective is to intervene into the definition of "Americans" as whites. Underpinning white nativists' appropriation of "Born in the USA" is the extremely narrow reasoning that America belongs to whites because whites are born here. Marin intervenes by indicating that Mexican-Americans also are born in the USA. Thus, "brown people are natives too" (Fregoso 56) .

When caught up in an Immigration raid, Rudy declares, "I was born in East L.A.," to the INS officer to announce his right to be in the United States unharassed. Rudy is also implicitly telling the officer that by birthright he (Rudy) is an equal citizen to the officer and entitled to the same freedoms that the officer and any other (white) citizen enjoy.

Of course, despite the fact that Rudy declares that he was born in East L.A., and thus a citizen by his nativeness, he is deported. In fact, when he attempts to align himself with INS officers as their fellow American citizen, Rudy is soundly rejected. To the officer at the toy factory, Rudy is merely another "bean in a bean bag." As he is escorted to the INS van, Rudy's appeals to the officers that "I am an American citizen" are for naught, for he is briskly ushered into the van with the "rest" of the non-citizen Mexicans.

In the INS office in Tijuana, Rudy tells the white officer, "It's good to talk to a American" but the officer does not accept Rudy as his equal, and ultimately condemns him to "Mexico-- where you belong." Highly symbolic of the repudiation of Mexican-Americans' claims to citizenship equal to that of white Americans is the scene in the INS van when Rudy, banging on the door which separates the deportees from the INS driver, screams, "I'm an American. I went to Belmont High, you idiot." Although Rudy is creating quite an uproar, he is not heard by the driver simply because the driver has on a set of headphones. Literally his assertions (shouts) of his membership in the U.S. national community are tuned out. This non-reception of Rudy's shouts reflects the refusal of white America to heed persons' of color justified demands for equal status as citizens.

"Rudy [just] cannot convince U.S. border officials that he is an American and therefore has the right to return to the United States" (Cortes 47); they simply will not hear his claims. All of Rudy's encounters with INS officers thus dramatize the exclusion of persons of color from the national community which Lowe and Oboler discuss. Moreover, the negation of Rudy's citizenship makes visible the contradictions inherent in white-American nativist logic.

With his wallet at home, Rudy finds himself without identification. Thus, he is without any documentation which can substantiate his claims to citizenship. Without such documentation, his body is all that can be read by the INS officers, whose job it is to regulate who is inside the nation and who should be kept out. Ultimately, Rudy is deported because he is deemed not-American by virtue of his brown body. His English, Dodgers hat, and knowledge of U.S. popular culture (as demonstrated by his knowledge of Death Valley Days and John Wayne) are completely ignored as signifiers of his Americanness. Instead, his brown body is taken as a more important signifier.

Rudy, on the other hand, is literally excluded from the U.S. citizenry because of of his brown body.

Once in Mexico Rudy feels himself to be in "a foreign land." The foreignness of Mexico and Mexicans to Rudy is played out to represent Rudy's Americanness. For instance, in the INS van headed to Tijuana, Rudy is an outsider amongst the Mexicans. Unable to speak Spanish, he is ultimately called by one of the Mexicans a "pocho pendejo," a pejorative reference usually intended to refer to Mexican-Americans who cannot speak Spanish and who, subsequently, are deemed less Mexican. In fact, as he is captured by Border Patrol officers on one of his attempts to cross the border, Rudy proclaims, "I'm an American citizen. I don't even speak Spanish." Whereas "the Spanish language is commonly used as an identifier of Hispanics" (Oboler 12), Marin presents a pocho Rudy to make more obvious Rudy's "American" identity. Basically, to present Mexican-Americans as brown Americans, Born on East L.A. plays on Rudy's/Mexican-Americans' cultural "distance" from Mexico and Mexicans. Edward Simmen posits that Mexicans-Americans' physical and cultural distance from Mexico accounts for the uniqueness, if not unrelatablity, of Mexican-Americans when compared to Mexicans in Mexico. He states:

After all, it is difficult to deny the fact that the contemporary Mexican-American, while he may have firm cultural roots in Mexico, is actually only a distant cousin to the Mexicano living in present-day Mexico-- a distance that is rapidly increasing with each new generation, with each new educational opportunity offered to and taken by the Mexican-American, and certainly with each mile the Mexican-American moves north from the border. (17)

"I don't belong here in downtown TJ 'cause I was born in East L.A." Although of Mexican descent, Rudy is not exactly "Mexican." Within Mexico and amongst



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