Zoot Suit, Castro and Bon Bon, Chica Chica
Even a far-right Cuban may not be far-right enough for some
"Don't try to out-pachuco me, ese!"
Published on LatinoLA: March 16, 2001
Edward James Olmos' great line from the memorable and ground-breaking "Zoot Suit" rings even more true today than it did when it first came out two decades ago. On a recent Friday night, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art presented a screening of this classic film at the beautiful Bing Theatre.
Several hundred people packed the big auditorium to enjoy a rare showing of this, the last great modern-day film musical ever made. The songs are fantastic and if you aren't humming them in your head for a week after you watch it, then you're either a member of the religious right or a crash test dummy.
Olmos is a revelation as the ghostly pachuco with all the wisecracks, one of the funniest, slickest, coolest screen performances ever, in my opinion, and well worthy of an Oscar. Unfortunately, this great Latino movie was not heavily promoted by distributors and was not seen by that many people, although it did receive unanimous critical acclaim.
After the movie, we all went out to dinner in Beverly Hills and made friends with some of the cast and crew. On hand for the festivities was that fine, talented and hilarious thespian of Mexican descent, Lupe Ontiveros (Selena, As Good As It Gets). La Lupe is truly amazing and quickly became the natural center of everyone's attention with her marvelous wit and colorful - at times ribald, but always fascinating - behind-the-scenes anecdotes.
I also spent part of the evening in good natured, but nonetheless heated discussion about Cuban politics with a young Cuban-American actor. I contended that Cubans are generally pacifists who really enjoy music, dancing, women, food and cigars, not necessarily in that order. My pana was vehemently opposed to that contention, and openly contended so.
I withdrew my earlier contention when he appeared on the verge of striking me.
I have that effect on people.
That opened up the floodgates and of course, everyone there had an opinion. My final thought on the matter was that if Cubans had universal access to western technological and cultural marvels like the Internet and the Playboy channel, Castro's days would be numbered.
I learned one thing:
Never argue with an anti-Castro Cuban, even if you yourself are an anti-Castro Cuban, because there are degrees of anti-Castroism! Who knew? Anyone even slightly to the left of a very hardcore, right-wing anti-Castroite is automatically a Communist.
Hey, my family came here when I was four years old with one suitcase for the five of us, and my little brother was stuffed inside that one suitcase! So don't try and tell me how to hate Castro. I know how to hate Castro, dammit.
But, let's face it, the embargo ain't working and never has worked. Not when every other country in the world is still doing business with them. No, the only way to beat this guy is to drop the embargo and descend on them with all-out tourism. No one can resist the terrible onslaught of the white-panted, white-shoed All-American Tourist and his money. Once the Gringo comes, the money starts rolling in, people start buying things, and getting things, and eating things and pretty soon they're hooked.
Is this really better than socialism, you ask?
Maybe, maybe not, but at least capitalist corruption can be perceived as somewhat manageable. With democracy, there's at least some healthy competition for those graft dollars.
Hey and why is it that Cubans shouldn't be subjected to "Bon Bon, Chica Chica, Bon Bon" and "Betty La Fea"? Don't they have the God-given right to trashy entertainment just like the rest of the world?
You bet your menudo they do!
Fernando Paez is a screenwriter and producer/director.