The Immigrant Struggle in ‘Boyhood’

11189929_ori‘Boyhood,’ the 2014 film that spans twelve years of a boy’s life, from age 6 to 18, won Best Motion Picture at the Golden Globes.  The acclaimed movie takes the audience through the growing-up process of Mason, a boy living in Texas with divorced parents. Throughout the film there are a couple scenes that prominently feature Hispanics. The first features a teenaged Latina girl who appears with Mason’s sister as they flip through fashion magazines after school. The second Latino portrayed is a Mexican immigrant who does some work for Mason’s mother on her new home. Mason’s mother recommends that he go to school. A few years later he comes up to her at a restaurant to tell her that he took her advice, got a degree, and is about to be promoted to a managerial position at his job.

Latinitas provided me with the opportunity to attend a Google Fiber Q&A session with the film’s main actor, Ellar Coltrane, who plays the role of the boy Mason. While there I asked Ellar why he believes the Hispanic immigrant’s role was included in the film.

He had two answers for me. Firstly, because the film takes place in Texas it just wouldn’t make sense if no Hispanics were featured, particularly those who recently immigrated. Secondly, the Hispanic immigrant provides a direction comparison to Mason’s mother, a single mother struggling to support two children. Both immigrants and single mothers, Ellar said, battle difficulties in achieving their dreams for themselves.

Most would agree with Ellar that a Texan film should present Hispanics to be credible. After all, recent statistics from the United States Census Bureau show that Texas is about 40% Hispanic. Pew Research Center demographics show that 88% of those Hispanics are Mexican, while almost half of all Texan Hispanics were born in their native countries.

Most would also agree that both single mothers and immigrants face financial and social difficulties that others do not. While the factors vary greatly, depending on the unique situation of the individual, both single mothers and immigrants occupy spaces outside of traditional society that create or complicate difficulties. Single mothers struggle to take on both their maternal role and an additional financial one. Immigrants, thrust into a starkly different country, must adapt to a new job, a new language, a new culture entirely.

However, after Mason’s mother suggests Enrique go to school he does not reappear until years later, when he is all smiles and boasting of his achievement. His brief explanation leaves the viewer with unanswered questions, wondering about the difficulties not portrayed in the film. How did Enrique pay for school? How did he balance work and study? Did he have a family at home needing immediate financial support? Did he struggle to understand and read English? Was he undocumented, and if so how did it complicate his schooling and career search? These are but a few examples of real-life scenarios that could have affected Enrique as he pursued his dreams. So while it’s glad that Enrique took the advice of Mason’s mother I’m aware that ‘Boyhood’ did not portray the many struggles he must have faced along the way.  ‘Boyhood’ is not a film about an immigrant’s triumph over struggle. I get that. Still, the simplistic picture painted of Enrique’s success reminds me that for those Americans unfamiliar with the struggles faced by immigrants, the movie did little to educate them further. Nonetheless it’s never a bad thing to portray the American success story of a Hispanic immigrant.

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