Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Commentaries on this Media!

La Madre in Del otro lado del puente

by Veronica Paredes

Del otro lado del puente was released the same year as Arturo Ripstein’s critically acclaimed Lugar sin límites (Place Without Limits). The award-winning drama, like the films I am discussing today, also features Lucha Villa, here the pop cultural icon plays “La Japonesa,” a well-known madam of a brothel in the Mexican countryside.  Del otro lado del puente received  (and continues to receive) far less attention than Ripstein’s film. As a film partly belonging to the genre of border exploitation, the film stars illustrious singer / composer Juan Gabriel and accordingly includes many musical numbers (a couple of which are disco) and one especially riveting action sequence.

In Del otro lado, the main character Alberto Molina, played by Gabriel, discovers that he is not a Mexican but a Chicano. For Berto, this is a traumatic discovery. Throughout the film Berto struggles with his new identity, and at first reacts with horror, rejecting the name “Chicano.” Berto wishes to return to his hometown of Juaréz, and along with it security in his Mexican-ness.  Ultimately, Berto accepts his Chicano family and his politically charged contemporary moment, taking on an activist responsibility to remain in Los Angeles in order to support and empower the Chicano community.

While Berto’s decision to stay in Los Angeles is a conscious one that he arrives at through deliberation portrayed throughout the film’s narrative arc, the role of the pocha, and her agency, is far more circumscribed. But what would happen if we centered her representation and utterances? For one, we would note that the film relies on familiar female stereotypes in order to develop its Chicana characters.  On the one hand, Estela, Berto’s love interest, is a young, innocent woman studying social work at USC. She represents the virgin. She spouts the rhetoric of Chicano nationalism (as do many of the film’s Chicano characters who are not Berto) and saves Berto from a romantic relationship with a vilified white UCLA student from Bel-Air. Estela also pushes Berto along in his conversion to Chicanismo. For instance, at one point she re-assures Berto that in Los Angeles “estamos en México” (“We are in Mexico”).

On the other hand, Berto’s mother (played by Villa) represents the whore, or some variation of Malinche (La Chingada, the conquered or the mythic “fucked one”). Through a confession from Berto’s older brother, Danny, a dramatic, hidden family history is revealed. Berto learns that his mother performed sex work so that she could support her family while her husband was serving in the U.S. Armed Forces during WWII. Berto also learns that upon returning from service, his father plunged deep into alcoholism, as he was unable to cope with the knowledge of his wife’s enterprising deeds. The Molina patriarch ends up dead “en el downtown” while La Madre’s suffers a far worse fate, now brain dead at a convalescent home. Now catatonic and mute, as La Madre, Villa can only sing (“Nunca, Nunca, Nunca”) to her child within her own memories. However even in her flashbacks she is denied subjectivity, the scene is shown through the point of view of the son.

With Villa rendered speechless, the film perhaps unintentionally highlights the silencing of pachucas, pochas and Chicanas that many have accused the Chicano movement of the 1960s and 70s of reproducing. However, there is hope for tracing the “contours and textures of [this] silence” in the work of scholars like Catherine S. Ramírez and Rosa-Linda Fregoso. For instance, Ramírez in her 2009 book The Woman in the Zoot Suit re-inscribes the pachuca into Chicana/o history, finding her images and stories even in the silence of neglected court transcripts. And, while Fregoso, at the end of her immensely influential The Bronze Screen: Chicana and Chicano Film Culture (from 1993), provides one glimpse of a potential narrative for the under-served female protagonist in her reading of Edward James Olmos’ American Me, with Mexicana Encounters (published in 2003) Fregoso devotes the entire book to exploring the “symbolic role of Mexicanas and Chicanas in culture” (Fregoso xiii) and how that has historically intersected with “the making of social identities on the borderlands.”

La Madre scene in Del otro lado del puente

Lucha Villa plays "La Madre" in this emotional scene set in a Los Angeles hospital. Beto (played by Juan Gabriel) discovers the truth about his familial past.

from Del otro lado del puente (1979)
Creator: Gonzalo Martinez Ortega
Distributor: Lion's Gate Films, Inc
Posted by Veronica Paredes