Two Thumbs Up for Bless Me, Ultima
By DeeDee Garcia Blase
I was enthused to see the Bless Me, Ultima movie now in theaters across the Nation this past week based on a controversial novel written by Rudolfo Anaya. I am particularly interested in how this movie does at the box office in light of several recent studies that show Latino audiences buying a lot of movie tickets. In 2010, Nielsen reported that 43 million Latinos bought 351 million movie tickets — an increase from the 37 million that bought 300 million tickets in 2009.
The Bless Me, Ultima movie was especially endearing to me, and it has a quality of familiarity to the Mexican-American (Chicano) because most of us can relate to Healers in our own families. How many of us remember the El Ojo (Evil Eye) egg being applied to us when we were sick as little children? How many of us remember our abuelitas or grandmothers showing us the importance of plants, vegetables, flowers, and herbs to make healing teas – and explaining to us how nature takes care of human beings?
This movie depicted Ultima – the character of a grandmother who was a curandera healer and the special relationship she had
with her grandchild. The bond and love expressed in this film was extremely moving. As a woman, I especially enjoyed how the director showed the strong matriarch role of love yet fearless strength a woman can bring to her grandchildren. Although this movie was a drama based on a controversial war, we were able to enjoy the subtle humor Mexicans can identify with. For instance, a touching scene involved a poor boy getting laughed at in the school classroom because his family could not afford a lunch box, and it was engaging to see him joining the other group of kids outside who had similar coffee cans used to hold their lunches, too. There was no doubt they were laughed out of their classrooms, too, and the movie director had a way with showing us the little boy was not alone.
Some people believe curanderas are evil when in all actuality they have similar qualities to the Native American medicine man. The indigenous curanderas merely use holistic herbs from Mother Earth with the intent of restoring balance the healer draws from her own unique set of skills, wisdom and life experiences. She is often misunderstood.
A moment of sadness swept over me when the little boy was ridiculed on the school playground because his grandmother was accused of being a bruja or a witch. More sadness was evoked learning how the community would secretly go to the curandera healer for help but would not acknowledge her in public because of their fear of ostracism. It reminds us how our fellow man continues to shun or put down those who are often misunderstood today.
All things considered, I give this movie two thumbs up. The director via Carl Franklin was able to masterfully give Latinos a connection by incorporating Spanglish into the film, and this is important to us because some of us do not speak fluent Spanish in light of strong English assimilation that occurred when our parents were punished by nuns in Catholic schools for speaking Spanish.
We do want to hold on to tradition, and we are proud of our heritage. We want to pass on the gold nuggets of our culture to our children in an English society – and although we love and adore American tradition, we believe we can adore and embrace multi-culturalism, too.