I haven't written about Cary Fukunaga's Sin Nombre yet because my homeboy, Luis Rodriguez was scheduled to speak on a panel after a benefit screening last week for Homies Unidos downtown. Fukunaga was on the panel as well, and we spoke a bit, he mild mannered and me respecting his space. Nice guy, and a hapa, Japanese as his surname denotes.
But that isn't even the most significant thing to this Asian raised in East Los; it was, upon hearing the vernacular of the MS members, I was impressed. They got it - calo' (the language of East LA) - right. In fact, I've often wondered about the very name, La Mara Salvatrucha, because I can't make out what it means. Trucha is a colloquialism outside of Spanish proper and belonging to calo'; it means watch out, as in, "Trucha homes, la chota (another calo'-ism) 'sta aqui" ("Watch out, man, the police are here."). Together with "Salva" as representative of El Salvador, and "Mara" as the first part of "maravilloso" ("marvelous" but also very possibly a response to the Maravilla barrio and their clicas, or sets as blacks say, the largest and most notorious in my day being El Hoyo and Lomita; the former having one of the most crazy but elegant sounding sub-clicas: "El Hoyo Maravilla Gansos" - who knew geese were cholos?) it's about as far as I get.
The preceding looks like a mish-mash paragraph but would only make sense to someone raised in East LA. This is because the movie takes part in Central America, much of it in Salvador, and yet when you listen to the MS gang speaking, it's East LA homeboys.
More, that isn't an accident, it's an unintended outcome initiated by the United States. After Reagan had funded all kinds of trickery and devilishness in Central America -- death squads for one -- coupled with the poverty and post-colonialist residue, this served to drive emigres to LA. The young Salvies, some of whom were born in LA, responded to the native gangs by themselves uniting - thus MS. Some joined established barrios - Dieciocho (18th Street) being another notorious one.
Then something pivotal happens again; it was either Bush one or Clinton that began deporting the Salvies back. This explains the exporting of LA gang culture - specifically, East LA gang culture - to Salvador and other parts of Central America (as well as Mexico); this is where Sin Nombre takes place, well after these deportations. And it's important to know this history before seeing the film, otherwise it happens in a nihilistic, existential vacuum where I can see some saying, "Look at those animals," while once again dunning mudpeople and ignoring historical contexts.
Luis made the salient point on the panel afterwards that there just as in our own backyard, the young kids are compelled by economics in large part. You're talking about very poor kids with no skills, experience and education. Thus, for some the very same reasons that flourished and flourish in LA that compel gang-related behavior, so too goes in Salvador. That's important to know.
It's a good film, well researched and acted. It just needs to be contextualized in history.