Category Archives: Cuba

(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


I’m a lousy fan. I’ve always been completely baffled by the urge to take photos with famous people or ask them sign stuff. I’m a cheap skate so I’m unlikely to buy everything a musical artist has ever released, much less load up on merch. That said, there are some musicians that I truly love, whose songs I listen to over and over again. I’m starting to feel bad for being such a lackluster fan so I think it’s time I do what any good fan would do – start gushing.

My journeys in Latin America have not only exposed me to a ton of great food and super people – I also had the chance to listen to a ton of great music, much of which isn’t well-known among my people (AKA white American people). I think it’s time I start spreading the word.

I put together a playlist on Youtube for some passive listening – guaranteed to spice up your work day – and below are some notes about some of my favorite artists. I tried to pick one song for each, which was tough. If you like someone, go deep – all of these folks have tons of great music.

I’ve divided this into three sections. The first is music that, if it weren’t in Spanish, would be pretty similar to some of the great rock we have in English. This is an easy first step for gringos into a very deep pool. This is followed by musica tropical, which has a completely different flavor that is 100% Latin, but quite palatable to Americans. This is the stuff of salsa dance classes. This is followed by some extremely Mexican music that I now love, but that might take Americans a little while longer to learn to love…Enjoy!

Rock – Gateway Drugs

If you like rock in English, try rock en espanol! All these artists are so rocking, you either won’t care you don’t understand a word or you’ll be inspired to learn Spanish.

Sabanas Frias – Mana

I don’t care if they’re overplayed or too pop or they sold out or whatever else cool people complain about, I’ve loved Mana since the first time I heard any of their songs. I particularly love Sabanas Frias for the section where everything just breaks down into rhythm. I also never get tired of Oye mi Amor and Mariposa Traicionera…

A Dios Le Pido – Juanes

Juanes is a Colombian hit machine. I saw him in concert at the Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City – what a performer! Camisa Negra is probably his biggest hit, but I really like the words to this song, which is like a prayer:

Octavo Dia – Shakira

Pretend Waka Waka and She-Wolf never happened. I invite you to meet the Shakira I fell in love with in the early ‘90s. This video is conveniently subtitled so you can see the depth of the lyrics. Shakira in English will never equal the talent of her earlier music in Spanish.

Lamento Boliviano – Enanitos Verdes

The “green dwarves” are just simply a heck of a lot of fun and this song is a classic – “Here I am, drunk and crazy!”. If you like them, you’ll probably also dig los Hombres G.

Andar Conmigo – Julieta Venegas

Probably the best thing ever to come out of Tijuana. It was super tough picking a favorite song of hers – I also love Te Voy a Mostrar, El Presente, Limon y Sal and Eres Para Mi is super fun. If you like Julieta, you’ll also love…

Controlar – Ceci Bastida

Also from TJ, used to perform with Julieta and has a great, original style. Check out the full interview/performance with KCRW.

Eres – Cafe Tacuba

Another classic Mexican rock group, straight out of Mexico City. If you thought you’d gotten a grasp on this whole Spanish language thing, just watch Chilanga Banda and you’ll figure out pretty quick that Chilango is another language entirely.

Un, Dos, Tres, Go – Belanova

Yes, they’re muy pop, but they’re also super fun! And c’mon, Rosa Pastel has plenty of social commentary.

Frio – Ely Guerra

I’m probably not hip enough for Ely Guerra – she is just way too cool! Also, this song is ridiculously sexy, even beating Plastilina Mosh’s flirty Pervert Pop Song – “Punish me, I know I’ve been bad…”

Agua – Jarabe de Palo

This song makes me cry – in the middle of a Saturday afternoon, if I hear it before work, driving around town, whenever. It’s beautiful and has such heart-felt lyrics. Here’s a version that conveniently shows the translation:

El Matador – Los Fabulosos Cadillacs

These are guys are super fun. I think Calaveras y Diablitos is the best song ever for cruising around town – it makes life seem like an absurd adventure.

Me Gustas Tu – Manu Chao

I have a minor in Latin American studies. Therefore I am, of course, a fan of Manu Chao, the ultimate darling of left-learning college kids with a thing for Latin America. He’s a hippie-ish nomad who sings in Spanish, English and French. This is the best song ever for people learning Spanish.


First of all, I am not doing justice to la musica tropical here…Cuba alone could have its own category considering they invented salsa. If you love that Caribbean flavor, also try out some bachata and merengue from the Dominican Republic, cumbia from Colombia and maybe even some reggaeton (think Daddy Yankee “Gasolina”). You can find lots of great stuff listening to Batanga online radio: or by going to a Zumba class near you!

Los Infieles – Aventura

My love of Aventura started as a guilty pleasure, but now I’m ready to own it. These guys make me swoon with their bachata. And artist who is still in the guilty category? Pitbull (Please pronounce this PEET-BUHL), though he really hit it home with Bon Bon.

Quizas, Quizas, Quizas – Ibrahim Ferrer & Omara Portuondo

I could have picked basically any song by Buena Vista Social Club to stand in for beautiful classic Cuban music. This is a double whammy since it’s a fantastic song performed by two fantastic artists. These two are part of the BV Club, but please go deep and listen to everything else they’ve ever done, their talent and presence are phenomenal.

La Vida es un Carnaval – Celia Cruz

INDOMITABLE. “Ay, there’s no need to cry, because life is a carnival,/ It’s more beautiful to live singing./Oh, Ay, there’s no need to cry, For life is a carnival/ And your pains can be alleviated through song.” – They can, if you’re singing, Celia. Celia also does a cover of “I will survive” that is as good as, if not better than, the original:

Crossing over…

Bidi Bidi Bom – Selena

Que descanse en paz. If you’ve seen the movie starring Jennifer Lopez, then you know Tejano superstar Selena was murdered by a crazy fan at the tender age of 23, a huge tragedy. Selena was one of the first Mexican artists to “cross-over” with her huge hit “I Could Fall in Love,” which is still getting play on the light rock stations. American people, it’s time for you to cross over the other way and recognize the amazingness of Selena. I picked this song so you could see her perform live. I also love Amor Prohibido – if you find yourself selecting Como la Flor at the next karaoke night, your conversion to Selena fandom will be complete.

Muy Mexicano

Some of Mexico’s most beloved artists…

El Rey – Vicente Fernandez

It’s appropriate that Vicente Fernandez’s most famous song has the lyrics “And I’m still the king.” You really are, Vicente. This man is a classic of Mexican ranchera music. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, I think you’ll find it hard not to sing along to “Volver Volver,” which is played without fail at every fiesta precisely at the moment that everyone has had one shot of tequila too many.

Los Dos Plebes – Los Tigres del Norte

This band is BEYOND HUGE in Mexico, but might not be terribly palatable to the American ear…You know when you hear Mexican guys blasting polka music out of their trucks?…yeah, it’s that music. Just give it a chance folks…And be sure to see Bajo la Misma Luna (Under the Same Moon), a great movie featuring a cameo from these guys. Another fun song of their’s – La Puerta Negra.

Tu Carcel – Marco Antonio Solis

Tu Carcel was the song that made Marco Antonio famous – Si No Te Hubieras Ido might be the one to make him immortal. This Michoacano turns out hit after hit after hit – I love that he’s got a mix of slow and high-energy songs – un gran artista!

Paloma Negra – Lila Downs

Lila Downs is a contemporary artist that sings really old, really Mexican songs. Beautiful music and I love the Oaxacan influence – check out her stunning clothes in this clip. I also love that her dad is an English-Scottish guy from Minnesota. Viva la fusion!

Rata de Dos Patas – Paquita La Del Barrio

Your man cheated on you? Coming off a rough break-up? The prescription for that is Paquita La Del Barrio. About 90% of her songs are about how men are complete heels. To quote this one “Rat with two paws – yes, I’m talking to you…Are you hearing me, you useless man?! How much I hate and despise you!”

Viva LA!

Just a quick shout-out to a couple of Latin-flavored acts out of LA – one veteran, the other up and coming.

Nadas Por Free – Ozomatli

Viva el Espanglish! These guys are just super energetic, wacky performers and muy LA. I find it entertaining that they were hired by the US government to be cultural ambassadors to locales in Asia and the Middle East – way to represent!

La Santa Cecilia

I think you have to see them live to really get how great these folks are. They do awesome Spanish covers…they also do the old-school Mexican stuff and maybe a little klezmer. What’s not to love?


Filed under Cuba, DF AKA Mexico City, Los Angeles, Mexico

Advice for a friend who is moving to Cuba

From an article I wrote for the college magazine - Click to read it.


I came up with the title to this blog post and it sounds pretty good, very authoritative, yet still personal. I would like to read this post very much. Unfortunately, I’m supposed to be writing it and I’m not getting very far.

First of all, I’m completely unqualified to be dishing out advice (not that that’s ever stopped anyone). I studied abroad in Habana, Cuba for precisely one semester in the spring of 2004, going with a group of about 25 students from my school, Lewis and Clark College, led by one of our professors, and we took classes and lived on the campus of the Instituto Superior del Arte. It was a short experience, but one that personally impacted me a lot.

That said, I feel like I was in Cuba so briefly and that I would need to be there for years and years to be worthy of saying a lot about it. Not to mention that there have been a few minor changes since I left – for instance, Fidel is no longer Comandante-in-chief. However, a good friend of mine is moving to Cuba in a less than a month, to attend medical school and I’d like to be able to offer her more than “!Que Tengas un Buen Viaje!” Well, Nora, this is all I have for you. Maybe some others out there can put in their two cents on the advice column.

At first, you won’t understand what’s going on because you don’t speak Cuban Spanish. Then you won’t get what’s going on because you just won’t.

Cuban Spanish is way different than the Mexican Spanish that we’re used to here on the west coast – different slang, different pronunciation (talk two times faster and drop half the letters in every word and you’ll be well on your way). Ultimately, it’s not just the Spanish though – it’s the entire world view and, indeed, the entire world around you and the rules that govern it that are different.

In Cuba, every day is the DMV.

Americans hate the DMV. You don’t get good customer service, it’s unclear what rules govern the place and you easily might spend an hour in line, just to reach a bitter mid-level bureaucrat who tells you you have the wrong paper and have to go stand in another line. Nothing makes sense. It doesn’t matter how much money or power you may have outside the DMV – they won’t help you once you pass through those doors.

Get zen.

Americans, and especially American Protestants (I would argue) have an incessant can-do attitude. Sure, we ask God for help, but we largely count on ourselves to do the work. We believe we can bend the world to our will and that all problems can ultimately be solved with enough hard work (or by thinking the right thoughts for all you New Age “The Secret” devotees). Maybe that is true in America, but Protestant Christianity is little comfort in a place like Cuba.

Catholics are a little better off – more primed to accept “the things we cannot change.” They have a million saints to pray to for relief, hopeful of a miracle, but are emotionally prepared for the worst. When I was in Cuba, I became convinced that the God I knew didn’t actually have any control over the island – that the orishas had control and they were completely capricious and unpredictable – like a bunch of two-year-olds.

Although santeria, with a dash of Catholicism, is the primary religion in Cuba, I would actually offer up Buddhism as the religion most suited to life there. Buddhism teaches that happiness depends on detaching yourself from all material wants – that’s a good attitude in a place that has trouble reliably getting vegetables from inland to the city and where various imported items might not be available for weeks on end and the phones and electric lights don’t always work. Whatever is getting your goat, the answer is: RADICAL ACCEPTANCE.

Lose yourself, but don’t lose yourself.

I went to Cuba when I was 21 years old. That’s a dangerous age – you’re half-baked at best, still impressionable and malleable. Life is just one big identity crisis. I’d like to go back to Cuba now that I’m at least a little more sure of myself, though I wonder if I’m already starting to shut myself off to life-shattering experiences.

Learning another language means learning another way of seeing the world. It changes your brain so that you learn to hold inside yourself two equal, but often contradictory truths at the same time. It can really mess you up at first, but I guess you get used to it. So lose yourself, but don’t lose yourself. That’s my double-truthed, contradictory advice for you, mi amiga. If it doesn’t make sense and you find yourself getting frustrated, please refer to points 1-3.

For more fun: This was an article I contributed to our college alumni magazine about our experiences in Cuba. Featuring a photo of me in a really large hat.

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Filed under Cuba, Getting personal