Nicky's Blog

The Puerto Rican Mambo (not a musical)

August 2, 2010
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Its a real shame that, until this past Sunday, The Puerto Rican Mambo (not a musical) had been collecting dust on a shelf for over a decade. A warm thank you to the New York Latino Film Festival for re-releasing this “best” kept secret.

The 90-minute indie film directed by Ben Model and written by Luis Caballero cleverly uses humor as a tool to narrate the rather painful stories of Puerto Ricans confronting racism, classism, xenophobia in New York City during the late 80s. I laughed really hard in the theater to the point where tears rolled down my face. Peering around me, I witnessed others laughing too- people from seemingly different walks of life genuinely relating to the short film. The film’s beauty is precisely its portrayal of humanity‘s struggle for acceptance through the lens of one particular ethnic group.

Shame on the film executives of that time for not having the cojones to be avant garde. This movie had and has potential to be adored by a broad audience of movie goers. I’m telling you – its funny when it needs to be, angry when it wants to be, and enlightening all around. That’s my marketing ploy, now let me tell you about the film itself.

The movie is segmented into frames of Luis Caballero talking to the camera, as though auditioning for a role, followed by reenacted skits. The “auditioning” Luis does stand-up comedy routine. It takes a lot for me to laugh–I always tell people I laugh inside. But, Luis, had me roaring with giggles for over an hour. He’s blunt, sarcastic, and ironic. He can keenly synthesize his awful experiences with racial hatred and bigotry into digestible comedic skits that anyone can comprehend and empathize with despite not having lived through them. And for those who have endured the ugly battle, Luis’ comedy is therapy.

The pharmacy scene is brilliant. Luis enters a pharmacy to do what any other person in the store would do: browse. Upon entering, the female cashier approaches him interrogatively. She asks if he “needs” anything to which he replies, “No, just browsing”. She is appalled by his response. “Browsing?” She asks with a perplexed look . “Yes. Browsing,” he repeats. Then, the woman scurries to the back of the store to report Luis to her manager. The manager announces over the speakerphone: Attention customers, there is a Puerto Rican browsing. Again, there is a Puerto Rican browsing in aisle six. Do not be alarmed. We have the situation under control. The scene is greatly exaggerated, inviting laughter; but it is that same dramatization that also highlights the pervasive problem of racial profiling.

Watching the film, I kept on thinking, “Damn, this still happens.” The experience manifested differently, but the root of the problem still apparent. Yes, progress towards equality and co-existence has been achieved within the past twenty or so years. Still, there is a new subconscious racial fear or intolerance that exists today even more complex and difficult to combat than blatant racial hatred of the past precisely because of its subtly. Like Luis, I have entered a bank and observed the white woman customer in front of me treated with a painstaking amount of care and patience. Then, when I reach the counter, not a single word is uttered to me. The transaction made hastily in silence. I am left to suspect that the disconnect between the “customer service'” I experienced and that of the woman in front has everything to do with the color of our skins. Otherwise, we are both two equally-deserving strangers waiting in line, no?

This film begs to seen by so many more people than were in the theater this past Sunday afternoon.


About author

A lover of people, the arts, parks, curiosity, spontaneity, altruism, self-exploration, and story telling. I believe in living your life nakedly and on fire. I am one of triplets: I have two sisters running about in the city coping my look. If you see "me", think twice. Much of my writing is inspired by my daily happenings. Much of it is also closely connected to my years at Bates College. This blog is for anyone looking for inspiring insights and stories.