(Unas de) Mis Favoritas Peliculas en Espanol – Some of my Favorite Movies in Spanish

Bienvenidos a my first bilingual blog post (Spanglish more accurately). Antes de nada, perdoname – estoy bien floja y no voy a poner bien los acentos porque mi spellcheck no es biligue.

Hay muchas peliculas buenisimas de todos los paises de Latino America y para mi ha sido un gran placer conocer la gente y la tierra y la historia de los hispanohablantes por su cinema. Aqui comparto una peliculas que me encantan. Seguro que me faltan muchas! Favor de poner sus recomendaciones y comentarios abajor – gracias!

Yes, I have a minor in Latin American studies, listened to a lot of Manu Chao in college, studied in Cuba and now live here in LA where I go to an unusual number of Latin American film screenings with my USC alum cinephile boyfriend. You should be able to deduce all of that from this blog in general and, especially, this list of movies. I have undoubtedly left out some great ones – please put your recommendations and comments below!

Happy watching! Que las disfrutes….

Thrillers, intrigue and terror

  • Abre tus Ojos – The movie upon which Vanilla Sky was based. The original is quite wild so you can only imagine the state of my head several years later when there was Penelope Cruz speaking English giving me intense deja vu and Tom Cruise running around…?!?! Americans – you need to learn to deal with subtitles. Stick with the original.
  • El Secreto de Sus Ojos – Buenisima. Gano un Oscar! Ya…vete a verla!
  • The Devil’s Backbone – Guillermo Del Toro – te quiero mucho, especialmente despues de este evento. And yes, that is German in photo #3 getting a signature from his idol.
  • Pan’s Labyrinth – Mas Guillermo. Bien trippy.
  • Bajo la Sal – You like CSI? This is better.
  • El Traspatio – A nice transition to this next section since it is terrifying, but all too real – based on the countless murders of women in Ciudad Juarez.

Raise Your Social Consciousness

These are the movies where an audience member raises his or her hand and says: “Why doesn’t anyone show the positive side of our culture?” In fact, that happened at the Miss Bala panel at USC. The amazing lead actress said: “This is is real. This is how Mexico is right now.” Sooo….when you’re in the mood to be depressed but more enlightened…

  • El Norte – La primera pelicula en espanol que vi en toda mi vida. Mi maestro del sexto grado nos enseno la peliculas – tuvimos que tener permiso de nuestros padres. La recuerdo mas que cualquier otra cosa que paso en el sexto grado. Me di cuenta de que yo no sabia nada de las historias de los mexicanos que habian llegado a vivir en mi pueblo.
  • The Maid – So familiar. Chilean, but could be Mexican – so aptly captures a very particular dynamic in the homes of Latin America.
  • Sin Nombre – Did you know that thousands of Central Americans illegally cross the border into Mexico? And that terrible, terrible things befall them? A beautiful and heart-renching film.
  • Miss Bala – The Mexican Oscars are called the Ariels.
  • Maria Full of Grace – Columbian drug trafficking. Ya viste Traffic? Y Blow? Pues, mejor que veas esta pelicula.
  • Even the Rain – A recent episode of Bolivian history I didn’t know. You will notice that Gael Garcia Bernal films are all over this list. Well, he brings it – what can I say? This is just another great film with him!
  • A Day Without Mexicans – Humor is the best social commentary. If I had a book club, I would just have us watch stuff like this.

To warm the cockles of your heart

  • Viva Cuba – una historia increible de una amistad entre dos ninos que recorren toda Cuba
  • No Se Acepta Devoluciones (Instructions Not Included) – #1 best Spanglish jokes. A Mexican party boy suddenly finds himself a father of a half-American baby girl – trust me: You do not know where this movie will take you. You will laugh. You will cry. Me encanta esta pelicula porque trata del intercambio de cultura entre los estados unidos y Mexico y como poco a poco empezamos a entendernos (o no).
  • Bajo La Misma Luna – All of these movies have some element of immigration now that I think about it…
  • A Better Life – Te quiero Demian Bichir.
  • Real Women Have Curves – A great film with a great star (American Ferrera) based on a great play by Josefina Lopez – Angeleno friends, you should get over to the theater she founded – Casa 0101 and see her latest play – Trio Los Machos wherever you can…

High-brow and Indie-ness

Great news – there are some good movies with basically no dialogue!

  • Suite Habana – An ode to the city – con esta peli La Habana te va a robar el corazon
  • Soy Cuba – Sort of the same thing…except surreal and Soviet. No me crees? A ver…


Pura Diversion/Pure Pleasure

Guaranteed good time, nuff said.

  • Casi Divas
  • Saving Private Perez – 10x mas chistoso que “Casa de mi Padre”
  • Rudos y Cursi
  • Un Cuento Chino (Chinese Take-out)
  • Chico y Rita
  • Nosotros Los Nobles – El DF que yo conozco. Estaba muriendo de risa.

Un Toquecito de History

  • Arráncame La Vida
  • Cabeza de Vaca – Not fun per se…a bit like eating your vegetables, but more accurate that whatever Columbus films are around.
  • In the Time of the Butterflies – A powerful story of a family living under the dictatorship in the Dominican Republic
  • The Mission

?Como se dice “50 Shades of Gray?”
It’s cool how you’re pretending like you’ll see any of the high-quality films above, you sex-crazy people…Pues, ya vas con tus peliculas sexi y/o romanticas.

  • Like Water for Chocolate
  • Y Tu Mama Tambien
  • City of God
  • Mancora
  • Pedro Almodovar films – don’t necessarily belong in this section. Try one, if you like it, pues, you have many more to enjoy…


Filed under Cuba, Los Angeles, Mexico

Why I Celebrate Columbus Day

My boyfriend is obsessed with time travel. He loves “Back to the Future” and never misses any new film with even the slightest time travel twist. We were both history majors in college and do lots of nerdy history-related activities together. However,  I have been very clear with him that if he were somehow able to actually travel in time, I would not be going with him. As I have pointed out to him repeatedly, in practically in any era but our own, ours would be a forbidden love. Not to mention, American history hasn’t been particularly great to women nor Mexican guys. When I watch Mad Men, it doesn’t make me want to jump in a time machine. Ditto for El Norte.

If I’ve learned anything in my study of history, it’s that people are jerks. Even historical figures who we can agree did some really good things often also did some really bad things (poster child: Thomas Jefferson).

Which brings us to Columbus Day. If you aren’t convinced that we are living in an era of rapid change, let me just point out that when I was in first grade, we actually CELEBRATED Columbus Day. By 9th grade, we were assigned to read “Lies My Teacher Told Me” over the summer. By college, we were celebrating MLK Day and Cesar Chavez Day and pretending that whole Columbus Day thing never happened.

In college, one of the first primary sources I ever read in depth was Columbus’ journals, in which he reveals himself to be a mega-jerk, to put it mildly. He writes: “As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.” The more you read, the more bizarre it seems that very nice first grade teachers across America were urging young children to celebrate this guy just 20 years ago.

If you think I’m conflicted, well, think how Mexico feels (to get quickly up to speed, read this essay and google images for Dia de la Raza).   Yes, that’s right, American people: “Columbus Day” has a different name outside of the U.S.:

  • Mexico: Dia de la Raza
  • Spain: Dia de la Hispanidad
  • Venezuela: Día de la Resistencia Indígena
  • Costa Rica: Día de las Culturas

That pretty well sums it up. When Europeans crossed paths with the indigenous peoples of the Americas, it was not a win-win. However, it was absolutely a world-changing event for everyone involved, a turning point in history that brought all of us to where we are today. I don’t think Mr. Columbus is someone we should celebrate, but I think that what happened in 1492 is something that we should remember and talk about and argue about because this history matters to all of us. And this Oct. 12, I will remember all of the bad things that we humans have done to one another. And then I’ll give my boyfriend a big hug, marvel at the twists and turns of history that brought us both to right here and be grateful to all the humans who stood up and spoke out and fought to create this better world we live in today.

Some more food for thought: A call for replacing Columbus Day with Bartolome Day (featuring a lot more reasons why Columbus really was the worst).



Filed under California history

Beans on shaved ice and chile on fruit

Shaved Ice + Azuki Beans

Sometimes I feel like when I moved to LA, I actually moved to a different country. Several countries, actually. Good thing I’m not running for President because at this point I am completely out of touch with middle America, at least culinarily speaking. I eat “meat and potatoes” literally once a year – when my boyfriend and I commemorate St. Patrick’s day with a special meal (note that neither of us are of Irish descent).

I’ve always been a California girl – I literally do not remember a time in my life when tacos, pad thai and sushi weren’t part of my basic diet. Since moving to LA, my eating has only gotten more adventurous.

I’m referring, of course, to dessert. This is where it becomes evident that people from different cultures don’t just eat different food; we actually have different palates.

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Filed under Food, Los Angeles, Uncategorized

Reflections on my very first trip to Italy + What is the point of traveling anywhere anyway?


“Italy is incredible! I love Italy!” This pretty well sums up every conversation I’d ever had about Italy before going there this spring. Americans are inordinately fond of Italy. The food! The culture! The art! The fashion! The Renaissance! Tuscany! We both put it on a European pedestal and then boast about how we’re a quarter Italian.

I’m a bit contrarian so if everyone loves something, I’ll immediately find fault. So naturally in college I chose to study abroad in Cuba rather than Europe. Though I studied history, I focused on American and Latin American history and indeed only managed to take one European history class in my four years.  Then I moved to Mexico, something that puzzled pretty much everyone I met on either side of the border.

I told myself I’d make it over to Europe once I was established and fabulously wealthy and tired of weathering travel in developing countries. It was partially a way to blunt the pain of prohibitive cost and partially a rejection of European cultural hegemony. I’m a native Californian – I reject East Coast cultural hegemony, much less people putting on airs from across the Atlantic.

This May, I went to visit friends who have been living in Pozzuoli, near Naples, Italy. I knew so little about the country, I couldn’t have pointed at Naples on a map (or Rome or Florence or this fabled Tuscany place). And I had no idea what I was expected to see.

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Filed under Travel

A Love Letter to CicLAvia

My love for Ciclavia is a passionate love that defies words. I feel a bit like the people who were at Woodstock and now say things like, “You just had to be there.” That sounds like hyperbole, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Ciclavia is a spiritual experience. You not only experience your own familiar city in a completely new way, but you have that experience side by side with thousands of fellow Angelenos from all walks of life. Whatever stereotypes you might have about what a typical “bike rider” looks like – put them fully and completely aside. Ciclavia is, quite simply, LA on a bike. Imagine driving on the 10 freeway or the 5 – but everyone is on a bike instead of in a car. There are no barriers between us.

Cruising peacefully for a Sunday afternoon earlier this month took on a special poignancy in the wake of the bombings in Boston. I believe in my head that most people in this world are good, loving, caring people – when I participate in Ciclavia, I feel it in my heart.

See what Ciclavia feels like in my short video (overlook shakiness at start). And yes, it really was that quiet.

Scenes from Ciclavia to the Sea, April 2013:

  • Three old guys sit drinking beer in their garage, watching the bikes go by. When I bike past them again three hours later, they’re still there. Just another Sunday afternoon.
  • The sounds of praise drifts out of corner Iglesia Pentecostal – a man in black pants and tie steps out with a bemused expression.
  • The sound of a young child’s voice belting out karaoke floats through the windows of a corner apartment building.
  • Two bikers go rogue and cut off the route – a middle-aged black man in full biking regalia complete with neon orange shirt and a middle-aged white mom in beach shorts. “I’m riding with my home boy,” she comments. He grins as they as they disappear into the neighborhood.
  • A girl and guy hipster with shades, skinny pants and ironic t-shirts blast some old-school Snoop Dog from a huge stereo affixed to the back of their bicycle built for two.
  • A 5-foot man on a makeshift stage blasts cumbia and salsa from giant speakers in front of a Salvadoran restaraunt pushing pupusas. According to his neon sign, he’s El Tremendo.
  • Two Rastafarians sing along to Bob Marley outside their pan-African thrift store calling to passerby to check out their wares.
  • A chubby 8-year-old Latino boy runs to catch up with his dad, carrying a white trash bag as big as he is. They’re collecting cans and bottles along the route.
  • A paletero with a huge straw hat strolls between several ladies grilling hot dogs on small carts next to the bike repair tent. The air smells of pork and jalapenos and the onions make your eyes smart.
  • A transvestite in coveralls is perched on top of a double-decker bicycle. “How do you do that?” someone exclaims.
  • A low-rider bicycle club hangs out by a gas station. I’m envious of their shiny bikes with their twisted chrome handlebars.
  • A fit man outfitted entirely in spandex is pulling a neon yellow cart for kids behind his bike – a small gray dog pops its head out, its ears blowing back in the wind.
  • A little boy pedals past sporting a fuzzy pink mustache.

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“Gifted Students Have Special Needs Too”

I’ve never heard anyone say this ever except for my mom. That is until I recently read an op-ed with exactly that title which got me reflecting on my experiences as a “GATE student” in California’s public schools. I’m writing this post specifically for teachers and principals and parents as food for thought – this is my story, draw your own conclusions. Hopefully something I’ve written here reminds you of some of the kids at your school and could be applied right now to feed that student’s life-long love of learning and to better set him or her up for both academic and personal success down the road.

I could easily be negative and whiny about some of my experiences as a K-12 student, but that is like complaining about everything I hate about horse-drawn buggies when they’ve already been replaced by cars. That is how much technology has changed since I was in kindergarten. I constantly look at what is happening in some of California’s most innovative schools and say, “Gee, I wish they had THAT when I was a kid!”

A Tale of Two Teachers

I want to start with a tale of two teachers that illustrates pretty darn well what needs to end and what can be. First off, I’m no genius. I’m a very curious person and I love learning. School always came easily to me, so in a class of 30 kids, if the lesson was at the exact right level for 20 kids and five were completely lost, I was one of the five who were bored. My point? There are lots and lots of kids out there just like me – enough that I ask you not to say or think things like: “Liza is bright, so she’ll be fine no matter what we do,” and just leave it at that.

As a sixth-grader, I was in a unique school within a school at our big, overcrowded middle school. We had traditional English and math classes, then every afternoon, we had a block period for project-based learning integrating science and social studies with a mix of 6th, 7th and 8th graders. We would work on a project for six weeks, then start a new one. For every assignment, we had seven options for completing it based on the seven multiple intelligences, and a lot of the projects were group work where they would put together a strong student, a struggling student and two average students (Teachers: don’t think we weren’t on to you!).

My math teacher hated me. I was always bored out of my mind in her class because she went super slow through the material, most of which I already knew, then if she gave us an in-class assignment, I’d finish quickly and ask her what to do next. She would snap at me and tell me to just sit there for the remaining 20 minutes of class or, another favorite approach of teachers, make me help other students. I have more sympathy now – after all, she had 35 kids with widely varying abilities and she was supposed to get all of us ready for algebra the following year. However, at the time, I was so bored at school that I was actually getting depressed and, being a goody two-shoes, I was distressed that my teacher hated me.

Fortunately, I had an amazing teacher for our project-based class in the afternoon. He made me feel special – I felt like he took all of us seriously and listened patiently to our concerns. In response to my complaints of boredom, he devised a special project for me – rather than just writing an essay or whatever else we were supposed to do – he had me create a Hypercard presentation. He showed me a little bit, then basically set me off on my own to figure out the program. I’d work away at the one classroom computer while he worked with the rest of the class. Most importantly, he didn’t give me an A based on how my work compared to that of my classmates. He compared me only to myself and pushed me to the edge of my abilities. Now THAT’S differentiated instruction!

I had many, many teachers like these two during my years in school – those who found me annoying and those who saw me as an opportunity to try out something new. In high school, I was much happier than I was in middle school for a couple of reasons:

  1. They tracked us. There is a lot of rightful criticism around tracking and I am still bothered by the few Latino and low-income students in honors classes at my old high school. However, I personally thrived by having challenging material and being surrounded by bright students who loved learning.
  2. My mom. I was one lucky kid because my mom is a fighter. She was an advocate for me – she worked with my teachers to make sure I was challenged. She found opportunities outside of school for me to develop myself.  And through a combination of volunteering for everything at the school and cajoling/harassing the principal, she would ensure I was always assigned to the toughest teachers for any given subject and the ones that loved teaching kids like me. Unfortunately, most kids aren’t as lucky as I was.

The op-ed that sparked this post  summarizes very well why gifted students often don’t get much attention – not from the principals and teachers entrusted with educating them nor from policymakers or education reformers. This includes worries about elitism, the idea that equity only matters for income, minority status and handicapping conditions, the belief that high-ability students will do just fine no matter what….not to mention there’s no clear definition for “gifted” nor clear research on what works. I went through school before No Child Left Behind, so I’m guessing if anything, there’s now even less focus on gifted students.

To me, it’s very simple – all students have special needs and that absolutely includes gifted students. In the same way that you take it upon yourself to help a struggling student – “intervention”, take it upon yourself to reach a student who is bored or who is coasting, not pushing herself to the best of her abilities. Every student needs more than a mom and dad – they need a whole community of diverse adults who care about them.

Coming next week: My Dream School and reflections on how we can truly have awesome 21st century schools…

And a plug for the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance – mentor a kid!

This post is dedicated to my mom, Bobbie Jenkins.

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Best Letter to the Editor EVER

My blog post “Please stop making 4th graders build models of the California missions” recently ran in my hometown newspaper, the Sonoma Index-Tribune. One 4th grader wrote this response and officially became my hero. Thank you to everyone else who also wrote a thoughtful response in the blog comments or elsewhere!

Fourth grader revolts against ‘mission madness’

Jan 31, 2013 – 05:04 PM

Editor, Index-Tribune:

I am a fourth grader and read the article, “End the mission madness” (Index-Tribune Our Schools page, Jan. 29). I loved it because I feel that Native Americans were treated brutally and horribly by the padres.

Right now in my class, we are doing a unit on the missions and I believe that the subject of the Native Americans and their share of the mission period has been completely glossed over. When I brought up the subject to my teacher, she said that people can have different opinions, but I’ve heard her talk and I know she really means the missions are always right.

Thank you editor, and writer Sierra Jenkins, for publishing this article in the newspaper and showing people you don’t have to always believe what people want you to believe in.

Natalie Sandoval

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Filed under California, California history, Sonoma