Born in East LA – Cheech Marin’s 1987 Comedy about Immigration


Born in East LAis a 31 year-old comedy about the Mexican Border that feels like it was filmed today.  Cheech Marin is Rudy, and American-born Los Angeles native, who gets thrown out of the United States simply because he looks Mexican. 

Cheech Marin trapped in Mexico in "Born in East LA"
Cheech Marin trapped in Mexico in “Born in East LA”

Rudy has to pick up someone at a factory near the border and he mistakenly leaves his wallet at home. The factory is raided by immigration agents and Rudy is arrested with all the Mexicans. Since he has no identification and can’t reach his mother or sister by phone, he is put on the bus back to Mexico with the rest of the factory workers.

Daniel Stern in" Born in East LA"
Daniel Stern in” Born in East LA”

 Once in Mexico, Rudy’s troubles are just beginning. Rudy speaks no Spanish, and without his wallet he has no money or identification. Rudy ends up working for Jimmy (Daniel Stern), a sleazy American who owns a bar and pool hall in Tijuana. If Rudy can earn enough money, he will be able to pay a “coyote” to sneak him across the border back to LA.

Born in East LA is played for laughs, but it has a serious side to it as well. Rudy falls in love with Dolores, (Kamala Lopez) who is working 3 jobs 7 days a week, also trying to earn enough money to come to America.

The acting in Born in East LA is terrific. Cheech Marin shows a more serious side than in most of his films. Kamala Lopez is great as the hard –working but vulnerable Dolores. Daniel Stern brings a wonderful complexity to the role of Jimmy, who himself is lonely and trapped in Mexico.

Cheech Marin & Kamala Lopez in "Born in East LA"
Cheech Marin & Kamala Lopez in “Born in East LA”

Of course, being a Cheech Marin film, there is also a lot of comedy. One of the jobs Rudy gets in Mexico is teaching people how to “fit in” when the get to LA, and not look like immigrants. He does this by showing them how to speak very loudly, use a lot of slang and walk with an arrogant swagger.

Neith Hunter in "Born in East LA"
Neith Hunter in “Born in East LA”

Neith Hunter has a short but memorable part as Marcie, an incredibly sexy woman walking through East Los Angeles to Rudy’s garage. When Rudy can’t find her he goes to the local park and asks, “Hey – has anyone seen a girl with red hair in a green dress?” Every male in the park immediately points in the direction Marcie was walking.

In 31 years not much has changed in the strange relationship between the American economy and its illegal Mexican workforce. In Born in East LA, 100% of the factory’s production workers are illegal immigrants. After the Immigration raid, the factory has to close for the day. On the deportation bus to Mexico, Rudy asks one of the Mexican’s what happens next. With a bored look, the Mexican replies, “Once we get to Mexico, we figure out a way to come back in time for work on Monday.”

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