“Though we tremble before uncertain futures/ may we meet illness, death and adversity with strength/ may we dance in the face of our fears.”
― Gloria E. Anzaldúa
Mosquita y Mari is a slow paced exploration of being a teenager peering over the brink of adulthood. Set in a Mexican-American neighborhood in Los Angeles, Mosquita y Mari follows the lives of two very different Chicana teenagers. Yolanda (Fenessa Pineda) is a studious high-achiever, a dutiful daughter from a loving home. Mari (Venecia Troncoso) is rebellious and volatile, with a chip on her shoulder that crowds out most of the world. Circumstances toss them together again and again, and they embark on a deep and intense friendship.
In her press kit, writer/director Aurora Guerrero writes:
The inspiration behind my debut feature-film, Mosquita y Mari, was my own adolescence. Initially, when I decided I wanted to write a feature-length script I kept coming back to a series of complex, same-sex friendships I had while growing up. When looking back, long before I identified as queer, I realized my first love was one of my best friends. It was the type of friendship that was really tender and sweet but also sexually charged. Despite the fact that we had the makings of a beautiful teen romance we never crossed that line. The beginnings of Mosquita y Mari was reflecting back on that time and asking myself the questions, why didn’t we cross that line and what kept us in “our place”? I didn’t grow up in a household where my parents forewarned me that if I turned out to be gay they would disown me. They didn’t wave the Bible in my face saying it was wrong. Instead the message was subtle. It was hidden in the silences around sex and desire; it was implied in society’s expectations, you know, like you only experience those feelings of love and desire with the opposite sex. I think all of us are subject to society’s rules so I think many people can relate to this story of censored friendship. That was the initial inspiration. […]
This process of self exploration that I embarked on while writing this script led me to position this budding love story within the immigrant world. The core conflict in the story of Mosquita y Mari isn’t a homophobic parent getting in the way of their experience but rather the pressures that come with surviving as an immigrant or coming from a legacy of self-sacrifice for the sake of family and status in society. In the end, what I ended up writing was a coming of age story where both my protagonists find themselves paving a new path for themselves and their families.
And you know it’s serious when the credits include a thank you to Cherríe L. Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa.
The movie is in Spanglish, almost as if Guerrero hung this quote on her wall while she was writing:
“Until I am free to write bilingually and to switch codes without having always to translate, while I still have to speak English or Spanish when I would rather speak Spanglish, and as long as I have to accommodate the English speakers rather than having them accommodate me, my tongue will be illegitimate. I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing. I will have my voice: Indian, Spanish, white. I will have my serpent’s tongue – my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.”
― Gloria E. Anzaldúa
Interestingly, much of the scenes in MyM are specifically constructed to rely on a teen’s body language to convey how they are feeling. The film is constructed with care – showing the struggles between the two girls to grow into who they will become. For Yolanda (semi-affectionately termed mosquita by Mari), her relentless quest for good grades was becoming less and less satisfying, yet the world of drinking, getting high, and boys offered by her old friends doesn’t appeal to her. She finds a third way in Mari’s “live in the moment style” and soon finds herself navigating that difficult boundary between a passionate friendship and romantic love.
Mari, on the other hand, already has one foot into the adult world. After her father dies, her mother has problems making ends meet. Mari routinely blows off school to try to raise money for the household. Her mother is caught between wanting Mari to focus on school and to make a better life for herself, but the money Mari provides is too important to go without. Mari, bright but full of rage at her impossible circumstances, finds solace in Yolanda’s simplicity and steadfastness but doesn’t always know how to balance their idyllic relationship with the demands of the real world.
Interweaving themes of family, duty, love, and belonging, MyM succeeds in revealing the inner lives of teenage girls. The most devastating parts of the film revolve around the petty betrayals that anyone who has been through adolescence will remember – the betrayals by others, desperately trying to assert their identities, and the scarring betrayals of the self, knowing you are trying to be someone you are not. While the heavy emphasis on hazy, lingering shots may have some viewers wishing to hit fast forward, Guerrero nails the messy inner lives of teenagers for what they are. And unlike 2005’s Wassup Rockers, MyM places the burden of the story squarely on the teenagers telling the tale. As it should be.