• Zaira Jimenez

The American Nightmare

In the documentary I chose, Hulu Original “Culture Shock” (2019) the subject is a young pregnant Mexican woman named Marisol who attempts to illegally cross the border into the US by paying a smuggler, in order to escape her rapist/ex-boyfriend and to hopefully find a better life for her and her unborn child. Upon beginning her journey with other young women, they’re advised to take birth control pills to avoid getting pregnant (should they get raped by men along the way) speaking volumes of the dangerous journey they’re about to embark. During her journey, she is asked for more money by her smuggler, depicting how migrants are abused and exploited throughout their journeys with the little money (if any) that they have. While crossing, Marisol and the others are chased by a Mexican drug cartel, who is recklessly trying to kill them for betraying their loyalty to their country by attempting to leave, and who then lead them to be detained by US Border Patrol agents. This scene allowed us to see the intensity of the organized crime that takes place in Mexico and how easy it is to become a victim. This is a real issue that takes the lives of many, as gang violence is a large part of why many people leave their countries


Although fiction, the main themes of this film include a lot of the real reasons why people leave their home countries. Since the beginning of the film, Marisol is seen to be raped by her abusive ex-boyfriend and urgently trying to escape him from harming her again, gently highlighting a big issue that Mexico (and much of the world) is continuously facing -, the abuse and ultimate femicide against women. Women in Mexico are kidnapped, raped, extorted, and killed daily for the mere reason of being a woman in a deeply machismo-rooted country. Her reason for leaving danger and domestic violence is the reason for many women and children leaving behind their lives and homes in search of better lives and opportunities for themselves in the United States. This can also be seen in the case of the young boy Ricky, who is traveling alone without his family (who are presumably all dead) from Guatemala, also depicting the struggle of young children to come by themselves in an effort to find safety and security. Much of the documentaries we’ve seen in this course show the disparities people from around the world face whether due to weather conditions, poverty and hunger, etc., which I feel are accurately represented in this film. Another important theme I felt was correlated was how false of a narrative the “american dream” is for many people seeking asylum and refuge, who risk their lives for an unattainable desire and destination that doesn’t exactly want to accept them. We see on the news daily how our country reacts to the increase in immigration, regarding refugees and undocumneted migrants as “illegal aliens'' and “invaders'' which obviously shows a strong distaste towards them. This same idea is seen in the film, when Marisol and the rest of the migrants crossing are detained by US Border Patrol agents, who take them to a secret lab in the middle of nowhere near the border and begin illegally testing them and their brains. With these tests, the migrants are knocked out on tables, being tube-fed, and have wires connected to their brains to stimulate a false-nightmare reality of what being in the United States is like, in hopes of hopefully traumatizing them into never wanting to come back. In this nightmare stimulation, all the migrants including Marisol wake up in an ideal white suburb, where they all speak English and have nice American values. Marisol quickly realized what was going on and eventually escapes this American Dream nightmare, only to eventually return to Mexico as she realized it wasn’t worth it anymore. Although this might not necessarily be happening (literally who knows anymore) I think the director intended to demonstrate how much of a nightmare chasing the false narrative of the “american dream” and of thinking you’ll arrive to a better life, which as we have seen daily, is not the case as thousands of people are are being kept in cages, in unsanitary conditions, being denied health care, etc. The issues seen in the film may have been dramatized, sure, but they are definitely taking place at alarming rates. (rape, human trafficking, smuggling, the abuse of refugees/migrants, assault by BP agents, etc.)


Upon Marisol being taken to the smugglers’ house to begin their journey to cross, she meets a little boy who is also paying them to be taken into the US. While eating prior to taking off, the smugglers ask for additional money ($20) from them, even though they’ve already paid. The little boy says that he won't have any more money left if he gives them his last $20. They responded that if he doesn’t, he will stay in Mexico and they’ll keep all his money. Seeing this, Marisol pays his additional cost. Later, she gets to know him, and he introduces himself as Ricky. He explains that he is coming from Guatemala and was sent alone, presumably because his family was killed. I felt that the filmmaker decided to include this scene and Ricky’s character because of the recent caravans of migrants of men, women, and children who are all coming from South American countries such as Guatemala, seeking safety and refuge in the US. Ricky’s vulnerability as a young child traveling through countries alone without any money was heartbreaking to watch, even more so because his story is one of the millions that’s currently taking place. The migrant caravan began in 2017, we’ve learned throughout this course it’s an ongoing problem that will not see an end any time soon. The US is currently facing such an influx of refugee children arriving alone, and this is why I feel like Ricky’s character and country of origin being from Guatemala were included in the storyline.


After taking a US Foreign Relations history course last year, I think it’s really important to remember that the last 30-40+ years have been filled with US interventions and unfair economic policies that overall allowed for countries to become overwhelmingly indebted, unstabilized, and corrupted. I think after many years of exploiting other countries' vulnerabilities, the US has a moral obligation to create policies that assist in the economic assistance and job availability in many Spanish-speaking countries to help them get back on their feet, without intervening in their elections or policies as done in the past. I don’t think the US should ever intervene in other countries trying to replicate US democracy, as these other countries aren’t starting at the same level, creating more issues. I think by creating policies that help restructure many of these home countries, it would provide stable jobs, infrastructure, education, and it could help lower crime, abuse against women, and migration, which are all symptoms of the real issues faced by the countries.

I think this film can allow one who's not familiar with the borders or the issues that are taking place to witness how difficult the problems are for migrants who want to leave their homes and risk their lives. It also depicts horrible governmental abuse, which to some extent is being taken place. This film allowed me to think - who’s to say this ISN'T happening? I think that’s what the director intended to do, to make the scenes feel so real in order to make the audience question what abuses are exactly happening to people arriving at our borders. Overall, I really enjoyed this film and would recommend it to anyone, rating it a 5/5 for it’s educational and dramatized version of how the American dream is a actually a nightmare for many.




Culture Shock can be viewed on Hulu.

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