Academy Award nominee describes challenges faced by Latin American performers

Bichir lectures before students in a geography course about his experiences as a Mexican actor and about immigration reform.

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Acclaimed Mexican actor Demian Bichir stopped by campus Thursday afternoon to discuss challenges that Latin American actors face in Hollywood and to encourage undocumented students to continue striving for their dreams.

Bichir spoke on the last day of a geography course, “The Southern Border,” that examined relations between the United States and Latin America as well as social, cultural and political issues involving the U.S.-Mexico border.

The actor, whose role as a gardener in the 2011 film “A Better Life” earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, shared his experience as a Mexican actor in Hollywood. Bichir moved to New York City in his 20s to study acting before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a Hollywood film career. Although Bichir had firmly established a film and theater career in Mexico, he struggled to secure acting jobs in Los Angeles.

“For all my fellow countrymen, it’s a double, triple difficult task to survive in this country,” Bichir said to a full lecture hall. Currently, Bichir is filming and directing a movie he wrote about U.S.-Mexico border relations.

Bichir also discussed the importance of undocumented immigrants in the United States, calling them “the force of this nation.” He said Americans against immigration reform need to “stop playing games and just face reality.”

While researching for his role as a gardener in “A Better Life,” Bichir said he spent time with Mexican gardeners in Los Angeles and saw firsthand the struggles of underpaid Latino immigrants who often perform the menial work Americans do not want to do.

“You don’t want to see, because it hurts. But (immigrant workers) are everywhere,” he said. “They cook our food, they park our cars and many other things.”

After his appearance in class, Bichir met with two undocumented UC Berkeley students at the Free Speech Movement Cafe to discuss immigration reform and encourage them to pursue their passions.

Bianca Rodriguez, a freshman majoring in ethnic studies, was one of the students who met with the actor after his in-class appearance. She said she hopes to attend law school and focus on immigration law.

“I saw his movie,” she said. “It hit so close to home. Any immigrant family could relate to it. As an undocumented student, you’re put down by society just because you don’t have the right papers.”

Geography and education professor Harley Shaiken, who teaches the course, said Bichir’s work often intersects with U.S.-Mexico border issues.

“Demian’s whole career as an artist and his life focus on engaged issues that are central to the southern border as a force,” Shaiken said. “His talent and art doesn’t recognize borders.”

Lydia Tuan covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected].