New York State Youth Leadership Council

A Better Life


Jul 11


I recently watched the movie A Better Life directed by Chris Weitz. It’s the heartwarming story of an undocumented father who is a landscaper and the obstacles he faces in order to provide for his 14 year old son. However, the son is ungrateful and embarrassed by his Mexican heritage and his socioeconomic standing. He wants money, lots of it, but his reality is different.

This isn’t so much a movie critic because that would be simple, it was amazing. I laughed, I gasped and I cried my eyes out while hugging Norma who was sitting next to me. There’s a common theme throughout this movie and it’s the shame the son feels towards his father. Many times he treated his father like crap because he couldn’t find the right way to say that he loved him. Their relationship took an unexpected turn and crazy happenings made the son realize how amazing his dad is; however, some may argue it was too late. This isn’t something that happens only in movies. In reality, many of us have been there or know of someone who is ashamed to be undocumented or to come from an undocumented family.

-semi spoiler alert- There were two particular scenes that stuck out to me. The first was when the father was trying to convince his son to go to school or else he would end up like him. The son’s reaction was of disgust as he vowed that that would never happen. Later on his best friend was trying to talk him into a deal that would make them a lot of money. The friend told him if he didn’t do this he would end up mowing lawns like his father. Again, the son is repulsed by this idea.

Many times I’ve been told to go to school so I can better myself, so I won’t “grow up to be like me”. When I was little I remember telling myself that I didn’t want to be like my mother, every time she yelled at me or punished me. I used to mentally point out her flaws in the hopes that I wouldn’t have them too. I remember wishing my father had been around and maybe my life would have been better. Years later I came to realize that a life away from him was best and that my mom had been right in leaving him behind. She always put me, my needs and my wants first. I was too selfish to notice.

I would ask her why she bothered having me; maybe if I wasn’t born she wouldn’t have come to America. If I wasn’t born she wouldn’t be undocumented. If I wasn’t born her life would be easier. My mother would always cry when I questioned my existence. She says I saved her; that my birth rescued her from herself, gave her strength to surpass the past and changed her future forever. That I am her strength and reason to live. Same words spoken by the father in A Better Life.

Growing up I would fight with her about how selfless she was, and continues to be. Sometimes, we barely had food in the fridge but she would still share with the neighbors. Same with clothes and money, she always gives it away. She would say, “lo que facil viene facil se va” what comes easily leaves just as quickly. My mother constantly stresses this idea that material objects have nothing of value and that money is the root of all evil. Similarly, in the movie A Better Life the father is just as selfless. He puts everyone before himself and educates his son through his actions within the home and how he treats others. This movie highlights that same embarrassment, American-immigrant identity confusion and self doubt one has growing up in a poor household while dealing with this paperless uncertainty. Wishing you were like your fellow classmate or had different parents.

I definitely recommend this movie to everyone, undocumented or documented, I’m sure you will love it.

How can someone have the ovaries to leave everything they know behind for something totally new? Something that takes years to get used to? I was freaked out by the idea of entering high school and having to face that change, while my mom was able to build a life for herself and us in an unknown country. I worry of moving out and not being able to make someone of myself; while she traveled to America with nothing, not even speaking English, and did it.

If there’s something I have learned throughout the years is that I don’t fear becoming like my mom; I fear not being half the woman she is.