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Films

This list was initially developed by Maddalena Marinari and Anna Pegler-Gordon and is a work in progress. We would welcome suggestions for additional films. If you have suggestions, please contact mmarinar@gustavus.edu.

Alambrista

Robert M. Young; 1977.

A young Mexican man illegally crosses into California to work in the fields after the birth of his daughter. He continues to struggle to balance finding work and earning money with the dangers of being an illegal immigrant. (Source: IMDB)

America, America

Elia Kazan; 1963.

The story of director Kazan’s uncle, who grew up in a small village as a member of the Greek minority in Turkey in the end of the 19th century. When the oppression by the Turks increases, his father provides the young man with the family treasures and sends him to Constantinople to make money and get the family to join him. But his own dream is different: America. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Amreeka

Cherien Davis; 2009.

A Palestinian mother and teenage son arrive in rural Illinois to escape oppression only to discover the difficulties of being an Arab in America after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

An American Tail

Don Bluth; 1986.

Fievel Mousekewitz and his family of Russian-Jewish mice escape from their homeland in the late 19th century, boarding a boat headed toward America to evade the Czarist rule of the Russian cats. Fievel, however, is separated from his family upon his arrival in New York City, and he discovers to his horror that there are cats in America too (his father said there weren’t). (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Avalon

Barry Levinson; 1990.

Story of a Jewish man who immigrated to the US in 1914 and how his family gradually grew (with both new immigrants and American-born children) through to the 1950s where the family faces a conflict of identity between their Jewish heritage and American consumerism. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

The Big Sick

Michael Showalter; 2017.

Kumail is a Pakistani comic, who meets an American graduate student named Emily at one of his stand-up shows. As their relationship blossoms, he soon becomes worried about what his traditional Muslim parents will think of her. When Emily suddenly comes down with an illness that leaves her in a coma, Kumail finds himself developing a bond with her deeply concerned mother and father. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Born in East L.A.

Cheech Marin; 1987.

Rudy is an American of Mexican descent who is caught up in an immigration raid on a factory. Deported to Mexico as an illegal immigrant, he has no way of proving that he is in fact an American citizen, and is forced to rely on his cunning to sneak his way back home. (Source: IMDB)

Bread and Roses

Ken Loach; 2000.

Rated R [strong language & brief nudity]

A young Mexican woman immigrates illegally to LA to join her sister to work as a non-union janitor. The two become involved in the effort to organize a janitor’s union which creates considerable tension. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

Bride and Prejudice

Gurinder Chadha; 2004.

A Bollywood Musical based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. An Indian family is eager to marry off their four daughters, one of whom enters into a love/hate relationship with a rich Californian. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

Catfish in Black Bean Sauce

Chi Moui Lo; 1999.

A Vietnamese brother and sister who were adopted in childhood by an African-American couple, face new crises as adults. One wants to propose to his beautiful black girlfriend, and the other has just located their birth mother and is flying her into LA. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

La Ciudad

David Riker; 1999.

Portrays (in black & white) the darker side of four different illegal Hispanic immigrants’ lives in New York City (Source: IMDB)

Combination Platter

Tony Chen; 1993.

An illegal immigrant works as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant and seeks a marriage of convenience with an American citizen so he can obtain a green card. At the same time, he struggles to preserve his cultural identity despite overwhelming pressure to assimilate. Eventually, he meets a woman who may be willing to help him — and is flabbergasted when he finds himself falling in love. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Crossing Delancey

Joan Micklin Silver; 1988.

A young Jewish woman works in a New York bookstore and believes herself to be falling in love with an author who frequents there. Meanwhile, her traditional grandmother hires a matchmaker and sets the woman up with a nice Jewish boy. Finally the woman realizes the author was using her and falls in love with the Jew. (Source: Wikipedia)

A Day Without a Mexican

Sergio Arau; 2004.

One morning the entire Mexican population of California has disappeared. The economic, political and social implications of this disaster threaten California’s way of life. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart

Wayne Wang; 1985.

A Chinese immigrant widow wishes to return to China before she dies to pay her respects to her ancestors. Meanwhile she is trying to marry her reluctant daughter before she dies. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

Dollar Dreams

Sekhar Kammula; 2000.

Six Indians make the choice between staying in India and moving to the US to fulfill their dreams. They face a conflict between their own dreams of success and their responsibilities to their families back in India. (Source: Wikipedia/Youtube)

Eat a Bowl of Tea

Wayne Wong; 1989.

A comedy about an arranged marriage between a US-born man and his China-born wife and their struggles with their interfering families and American culture. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

El Norte

Gregory Nava; 1983.

Mayan peasants, sick of being manual laborers, try to improve their lives, but are discovered and attacked by the Guatemalan army. They decide to escape to America and struggle to live as illegal immigrants in Los Angeles. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

Eve and the Fire Horse

Julia Kwan; 2005.

A 9 year old Canadian-born Chinese girl is caught between her family’s Buddhist faith and her older sister’s exploration of Christian faith. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

Far and Away

Ron Howard; 1992.

An Irish couple leaves Ireland, dreaming of owning land in Oklahoma. The young man becomes a boxer, but the couple loses their money to his employers and they struggle to make ends meet through the winter. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

Fast Food Nation

Richard Linklater; 2006.

Fictionalized thriller about the fast food industry, including the involvement of illegal Mexican immigrant workers in a slaughterhouse. Based on Eric Schlosser’s nonfiction book. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

Gangs of New York

Martin Scorsese; 2002.

(Rated R)

After the murder of his father, a young immigrant man returns the Five Points district in New York City (1863) which is run by violent gangs. The gang that killed his father believes the city should be rid of all its immigrants, particularly the Irish. All this is set to the backdrop of the Civil War and forced conscription. (Source: IMDB)

The Godfather

Francis Ford Coppola, 1972.

(Rated R)

The patriarch of an Italian American organized crime family transfers control of his empire to his reluctant son.

The Godfather, Part II

Francis Ford Coppola, 1974.

(Rated R)

Continuation of the Story of the Italian Mafia as documented in The Godfather Part I. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

Goodbye Solo

Ramin Bahrani; 2008.

(Rated R)

Solo is a young cheerful taxi driver from Senegal hoping for a better life in America. But when the hard-edged William, a 70-year-old white Southerner, enters Solo’s cab with an unusual request, this odd couple embarks on a journey of friendship that will change them both forever. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

Gran Torino

Clint Eastwood; 2008.

(Rated R)

Disgruntled Korean War vet Walt Kowalski sets out to reform his neighbor, a young Hmong American teenager, who tried to steal Kowalski’s prized possession: his 1972 Gran Torino. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

Green Card

Peter Weir; 1990.

A Frenchman has been offered a job in the US, but needs a work permit and green card which can be most easily obtained by marrying an American. A young New York woman is trying to move into the perfect apartment, but it is for couples only. The two move in together to convince the immigration officer that their marriage was for love and end up developing feelings for one another. (Source: IMDB)

Green Card Fever

Bala Rajasekharuni; 2003.

The story of a young man in the United States who overstays his visa in the pursuit of a “green card”. He naively muddles through an underworld of illegal immigrants, immigration lawyers and the INS, and the love of an American girl of Indian origin. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

Hester Street

Joan Micklin Silver; 1975.

A Russian Jewish immigrant has been living in New York for five years, seeing an American woman and earning money to support a frivolous lifestyle. He is joined by his wife and son who retain their traditional dress and customs, causing a rift between the modernized American husband and traditional Russian Jewish wife. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

House of Sand and Fog

Vadim Perelman; 2003.

Despite a pretense of continued affluence, a man once a member of the Shah of Iran’s elite inner circle is barely making ends meet until he sees his opportunity in the auction of a house being sold for back taxes. Through a bureaucratic snafu, the house had been improperly seized from its rightful owner, a self-destructive alcoholic. The rightful owner decides to fight to recover her home at any cost, joined by the deputy sheriff, and leading to a series of tragic events. The tale explores what happens when the American Dream goes terribly awry. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

Household Saints

Nancy Savoca; 1993.

Three generations of Italian-American women struggle to get by in post-WWII Little Italy in New York. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

Hyderabad Blues

Nagesh Kukunoor; 1998.

An NRI (non-resident Indian) visits his homeland after living 12 years in the USA and as he experiences culture shock, finds himself a foreigner in his own country. (Source: Wikipedia)

I Remember Mama

George Stevens; 1948.

The life of a Norwegian immigrant family in 1910 San Francisco. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

The Immigrant

Charlie Chaplin; 1917.

The story of Charlie, an immigrant who endures a a challenging voyage and gets into trouble as soon as he arrives in America. (Source: IMDB)

In America

Jim Sheridan; 2003.

(Rated R)

An aspiring Irish actor and his family illegally immigrate in the United States. Once they arrive in the big city, they move into a flop house and try to make it their home. While they struggle to fit in their new country, the family finds new friends like the reclusive neighbor, Mateo, who provides help in the most unexpected ways. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

In Between Days

So Yong Kim; 2006.

A young Korean immigrant in Canada struggles with her grades, her relationship with her mother, and her desire for a physical relationship with her best friend, another Korean who is more interested in a more “Americanized” Korean girl. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

The Italian

Reginald Barker; 1915.

An immigrant leaves his sweetheart in Italy to find a better life across the sea in the grimy slums of New York. They are eventually reunited and marry but life in New York is hard and tragedy tarnishes their dream of a better life in the new world. (Source: IMDB)

The Journey

Harish Saluja; 1997.

An Indian couple works hard to allow their son to grow up and live a better life abroad in the US. Years later, after his wife’s death, the father joins his son and his young “American” family in the US. Tensions between the Indian father and American wife strain the family. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

The Joy Luck Club

Wayne Wang; 1993.

(Rated R)

Through a series of flashbacks, the stories of four Chinese women who escaped feudal China to America, and their four American daughters, are told. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

The Killing Floor

Elsa Rassbach, 1984.

Set amid the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, this critically acclaimed independent film tells a true story of how a group of black and white slaughterhouse workers attempted to break race barriers to build an interracial union for the first time in the brutal Chicago Stockyards.

The Kite Runner

Marc Foster; 2007.

The son of a wealthy Afghan businessman grows up and becomes best friends with, his servant boy. During a kite-flying tournament, an unspeakable event changes the nature of their relationship, haunting the wealthy son forever. The servant boy is left in Afghanistan when the family flees to America after the Taliban crackdown. Years later he returns to Afghanistan to save the son of the servant boy from being abused by Taliban authorities. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes/IMDB)

Letters from America: The Life and Times of O.E. Rolvaag

Schwab and Craton; 1989.

Biography of the Norwegian-American author of the classic immigrant novel GIANTS IN THE EARTH. The film explores Rolvaag’s literature and exploring his ideas about anti-materialism and advocacy for multiculturalism. Written, produced and directed, filmed and edited by Schwab and Craton. (Source: First Light Films)

Living on Tokyo Time

Steven Okazaki; 1987.

(Rated R)

Japanese-American rock musician Ken agrees to marry immigrant Kyoko so she can stay in the United States. Kyoko is from Japan and barely speaks any English, which creates a major dilemma for Ken because, despite his family’s ethnic background, he doesn’t understand any Japanese. A further complication develops when Ken actually starts falling in love with Kyoko but she doesn’t share those feelings. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Lone Star

John Sayles; 1996.

(Rated R)

In the border town of Frontera, an old murder mystery unfolds against a tapestry of historical, familial and community conflicts and deceptions. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia)

The Mambo Kings

Arne Glimcher; 1992.

(Rated R)

Adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos, this is the story of two brothers who flee from Cuba in the early 1950s, heading for New York. Hoping to make a name for themselves as famous musicians, the duo face hardships and painful discoveries along the way. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Maria Full of Grace

Joshua Marston; 2004.

(Rated R)

A bright, spirited 17-year old, Maria Alvarez, lives with three generations of her family in a cramped house in rural Colombia and works stripping thorns from flowers in a rose plantation. The offer of a lucrative job involving travel – in fact, becoming a drug “mule” – changes the course of her life. Far from the uneventful trip she is promised, Maria is transported into the risky and ruthless world of international drug trafficking. Her mission becomes one of determination and survival and she finally emerges with the grace that will carry her forward into a new life. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Miss Universe 1929

Peter Forgacs; 2006.

An exploration of Europe’s private history through home movies. Featured here are amateur filmmaker Marci Tenczer who was smitten with his cousin, Liesl Goldarbeiter and who chronicled her rise from a modest childhood in Vienna to the Texas competition where she was crowned the first Miss Universe. Then Hitler upended everyone’s universe. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Mississippi Masala

Mira Nair; 1992.

(Rated R)

Romantic comedy cultural set in the rural American south. The love story comes courtesy of Denzel Washington, as a rug cleaner, and Sarita Choudhury as the daughter of Indian immigrants running a small-time motel; both give fresh, charming performances. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Moscow on the Hudson

Paul Mazurski; 1984.

(Rated R)

Moscow Circus saxophone player Vladimir Ivanoff defects in Bloomingdale’s while on tour in New York City. Befriended and temporarily housed by security guard Lionel Witherspoon, Vladimir experiences many misadventures — and a longing for his family. But his loneliness is soon lifted by lovely Lucia. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Music in My Heart

Joseph Santley; 1940.

A European actor performing in a Broadway musical is riding in a taxi that gets involved in an accident with another cab. The actor is smitten with the female passenger in the other cab, and she falls for him as well, even though she’s engaged to another man. When the actor is threatened with deportation, their relationship is put to the ultimate test. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Joel Zwick; 2002.

A young Greek American woman falls in love with a non-Greek and struggles to get her family to accept him while she comes to terms with her heritage and cultural identity. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

My Girl Tisa

Elliott Nugent; 1948.

An immigrant girl is determined to save enough money to bring her father to America. She falls for an aspiring lawyer who begs her to let him use her savings for his education. Torn between her father and the man she loves, a series of comic misadventures leaves her on the verge of being deported. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

My Family

Gregory Nava; 1995.

(Rated R)

Sprawling immigrant saga tells the stories of three generations of the Sanchez family as they migrate to California during the 1920s, weather the Depression and a world war, and look to the future. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

The Namesake

Mira Nair; 2006.

The Namesake” is the story of the Ganguli family whose move from Calcutta to the United States evokes a lifelong balancing act to meld to a new world without forgetting the old. Although parents Ashoke and Ashima long for the family and culture that enveloped them in India, they take great pride in the opportunities their sacrifices have afforded their children. At the same time, their son Gogol is torn between finding his own unique identity without losing his heritage. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Night of Henna

Hassin Zee; 2005.

A beautiful Pakistani American girl returns to America after a traditional upbringing in Pakistan where her parents felt she would be untainted by American culture. Finding herself in an exciting new environment, her eyes open to life’s possibilities. She thinks her dream of going to university will come true, but her marriage has already been arranged by her parents.

Padre Nuestro

Christopher Zalla; 2007.

This Spanish film with English subtitles takes a gritty look at the underbelly of the American Dream through the eyes of two Mexican immigrants who end up in New York, in search of El Dorado. (Source)

The Perez Family

Mira Nair; 1995.

Rated R

Dottie Perez comes to the United States from Cuba, along with Juan Perez, who hopes to be reunited with his wife after 20 years. To work around the bureaucratic politics of the refugee camps, Dottie persuades Juan to pretend that they’re married, and drafts a few other Perezes to create a family. Meanwhile, Juan’s wife Carmella believes that Juan never arrived and is finally letting go of his memory, helped by the attentions of a Miami police detective. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Popi

Arthur Hiller; 1969.

Rated G

A Puerto Rican single father living in New York City dreams of a better life for his children. His big plan? To load the kids onto a boat off the coast of Florida and let them “float” to a better life. Can he pull it off? Is he doing the right thing? (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Real Women Have Curves

Patricia Cardoso; 2002.

Ana, a first generation Mexican American teenager living in East Los Angeles, has just graduated from high school. Because she is a talented writer, a caring teacher urges her to apply to college. Ana secretly is excited about the possibility, but her mother insists she help provide for the family by working in her sister’s sewing factory. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Quinceañera

Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer; 2005.
(Rated R)

With her 15th birthday approaching, Magdalena can only think about her boyfriend, her Quinceañera dress, and the Hummer Limo she hopes will carry her on her special day. But, a few months before the celebration, Magdalena becomes pregnant. As the elaborate preparations for her Quinceañera proceed, it is only a matter of time before her religious father finds out and rejects her. Forced out of her home, Magdalena moves in with her great-great uncle, Tomas, and Carlos, Magdalena’s cousin. As Magdalena’s pregnancy grows more visible, she, Carlos and Tomas pull together as a family of outsiders. But, the economics of the neighborhood are turning against them. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Salt of the Earth

Herbert J. Biberman; 1954.

Based on an actual strike against the Empire Zinc Mine in New Mexico, the film deals with the prejudice against the Mexican American workers, who struck to attain wage parity with Anglo workers in other mines and to be treated with dignity by the bosses. The film is an early treatment of feminism, because the wives of the miners play a pivotal role in the strike, against their husbands’ wishes. In the end, the greatest victory for the workers and their families is the realization that prejudice and poor treatment are conditions that are not always imposed by outside forces. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Saving Face

Alice Wu; 2004.

(Rated R)

A Chinese American surgeon, living in Manhattan, is shocked when her single mother shows up on her doorstep pregnant. To help her mom “save face” and avoid the taboo in the Chinese community of a pregnant unmarried woman, the doctor helps her mom find Mr. Right. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Sophie’s Choice

Alan J. Pakula; 1982.

(Rated R)

A holocaust survivor and her lover befriend a young Southern writer when he moves into their Brooklyn apartment building. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Stand and Deliver

Ramon Menendez; 1988.

Inspiring story of a dedicated East Los Angeles high school teacher who transforms some of his students into math scholars. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia)

Sueño

Renee Chabria; 2005.

Romantic comedy in which a Mexican immigrant in Los Angeles enters a singing contest and achieves the American Dream — and then some. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Spanglish

James L. Brooks; 2004.

A married couple, John and Deborah Clasky, have their lives forever changed when a fiery new housekeeper, Flor, and her intelligent daughter step into their home. Although Flor and John do not share a common language, they soon find themselves romantically attracted to each other. This connection acts as a catalyst for both John and Flor to reevaluate their lives and solve their respective family problems. (Sources: Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia)

Sweet Land

Ali Salim; 2005.

When a feisty German mail-order bride arrives in Minnesota to marry a young immigrant farmer, they must face stiff opposition from the local minister and strong anti-German sentiment among the townspeople. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

The Terminal

Steven Spielberg; 2004.

An immigrant finds himself stranded in JFK airport, and must take up temporary residence there. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Tortilla Soup

Maria Ripoll; 2001.

A Mexican American master chef and father to three daughters has lost his taste for food but not for life. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

La Tragedia de Macario

Pablo Veliz; 2005.

Determined to provide his wife with a better life, Macario leaves his Mexican village to find work in the United States. This drama follows the hopeful young man and a friend as they head north on a journey that ultimately takes a tragic turn. Infused with magical realism, this moving tale of faith, resolve and loss is based in part on true events that occurred in 2003 in Victoria, Texas. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Tommy Lee Jones; 2005.

A man is shot and quickly buried in the high desert of west Texas. The body is found and reburied in Van Horn’s town cemetery. Pete Perkins, a local ranch foreman kidnaps a Border Patrolman and forces him to disinter the body. With his captive in tow and the body tied to a mule Pete undertakes a dangerous and quixotic journey into Mexico. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

The Visitor

Tom McCarthy; 2008.

A college professor becomes embroiled in the lives of a young immigrant couple living in New York City and stumbles into an unexpected romance as a result. As these strangers struggle to deal with their individual lives in a changed world, their shared humanity is revealed in awkward, humorous and dramatic ways. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

The Wedding Banquet

Ang Lee; 1993.

(Rated R)

Gao Wai, a gay New Yorker, has never shared the truth about his sexuality with his traditional Taiwanese family, and hopes to disguise his long-term relationship with his lover Simon by marrying Wei-Wei, a young artist who’s only it for the green card. But Gao’s parents refuse to let him off the hook easily, showing up in New York to plan a massive wedding banquet. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

Under the Same Moon

Patricia Riggen; 2007.

UNDER THE SAME MOON (LA MISMA LUNA) tells the parallel stories of nine-year-old Carlitos and his mother, Rosario. In the hopes of providing a better life for her son, Rosario works illegally in the U.S. while her mother cares for Carlitos back in Mexico. Unexpected circumstances drive both Rosario and Carlitos to embark on their own journeys in a desperate attempt to reunite. (Source: IMDB)

Utvandrarna

Jan Troell; 1971.

In the middle of the 19th century, Kristina and Karl-Oskar live in a small rural village in southern Sweden. They get married and try unsuccessfully to make a living on a small spot of land. Deciding to emigrate to the United States, they sell everything and leave. However, some of the emigrants never reach the New World. (Source: Rotten Tomatoes)

West Side Story

Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins; 1961.

This romantic musical update of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ won ten Oscars. The tale of a turf war between rival teenage gangs in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen and the two lovers who cross battle lines has captivated audiences for four decades. (Sources: Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia)

Zoot Suit

Luis Valdez, 1982.

Part fact and part fiction, Zoot Suit is the film version of Luis Valdez’s critically acclaimed play, based on the actual Sleepy Lagoon murder case and the zoot suit riots of 1940s Los Angeles. Henry Reyna is the leader of a group of Mexican-Americans being sent to San Quentin without substantial evidence for the death of a man at Sleepy Lagoon. As part of the defense committee, Alice Bloomfield and George Shearer fight the blatant miscarriage of justice for the freedom of Henry and his friends.