“We chose these movies because this particular branch has an 80 percent Hispanic-of-Mexican-descent population,” says Catherine Greene, librarian for the Mountain View/Beckwourth branch library. “They like taking these movies out, particularly the classics, and I think part of it is that they remember having seen these while they were living in Mexico.”
On Wednesday, March 12, the library will screen the classic Mexican film Ustedes los Ricos, starring Pedro Infante. Made in 1948, the film was released during the “Golden Age of Mexican Cinema” that spanned the 1930s to 1950s. The star of the film, Infante, was also a ranchera singer. An article for about.com describes ranchera as “a type of song that was literally sung on a Mexican ranch...the music concerned itself with traditional themes of love, patriotism, and nature.” Many classic films include ranchera music, which has a sound reminiscent of polka and often includes accordions, guitars, and trumpets.
“We have a growing collection of these kind of movies,” says Greene. “I usually send people to a couple of area book fairs and tell them to buy anything about the Mexican culture and anything in Spanish. Many of our staff members come from Spanish-speaking families whose heritage is Mexican, so I rely on them to help make selections.”
Library clerk Sam Cerrato assisted in choosing some of the films that will be shown. “There’s two different styles I’ve seen in Mexican classic movies,” he says. “There’s the humorous ones with one guy, Cantinflas.” Greene describes Cantinflas as “the Mexican Charlie Chaplin.” Mario Moreno, the actor’s real name, is best known in the United States for his role as Passepartout in the 1956 film Around the World in Eighty Days.
The second Mexican classic style Cerrato calls the “romantic old style.” In these types of films, he says, “A real macho man gets a really pretty woman. They sing outside the window, a serenada. A famous singer will come out and sing this song that he wrote for the movie.” One film that was recently shown is Camelia, about a “famous actress in a play who has all these men coming after her,” Cerrato explains. “What happens is, this guy is a bullfighter, and she goes to see him at one of his bullfights, and he’s distracted because she’s incredibly beautiful, and he gets hurt. She is high class and doesn’t want anything to do with him, but in secret she falls in love with him.” Cerrato adds, “You can watch it over and over again, even if you know the ending. It draws you in.”
Of the three classic films screened thus far, the first was the most well attended. Greene blames the low turnout for the latter two screenings on library hours. “The only nights that were open for this are Monday and Wednesday. The parents coming home from work at six or seven at night, exhausted, have to feed their kids. If it was a Friday night thing or Saturday — our library closes at 2:30 on Saturdays — I think these would be more heavily attended.” The limited hours, she says, are “a real sore spot, especially in this community — the problem is a lot of kids in this community don’t have computers at home, or if they do they don’t have Internet access. They have only two nights to come here and do their homework. It’s obscene! Populations in communities like La Jolla are better able to deal with these hourly cutbacks because more of their patron population has Internet and computers at home.”
Greene supervises a youth “friends of the library” group that offers tutoring. “All these kids come from families in which the first language is Spanish. When these kids were growing up — they’re now in high school — they couldn’t get help with their homework. So what they decided to do here every Wednesday night is tutor elementary school kids who can’t get the kind of help at home that they need.”
Mexican Film Classics: Ustedes los Ricos
Wednesday, March 12
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Mountain View/Beckwourth branch library
721 San Pasqual Street
Southeast San Diego