The movie El Norte is a film that depicts the experience of Enrique and Rosa, as they make their journey out of Guatemala in attempts to move north. The movie is divided into three acts. The first act of the film takes place in Guatemala where it goes into the Indian community. We are then introduced to Enrique and Rosa’s father. A comment that stood out for me was when the father stated that for the rich, poor people are nothing more than pairs of arms to do their work. He then plans to form a rebellion against those who have taken over the lands surrounding them. His father is then betrayed by one of the workers and he is beheaded by a platoon of soldiers. Enrique hears gunshots and runs towards the field with a machete, only to find his dads head hanging from a tree. When he attempts to take it down, he is attacked by one of the men, and he manages killing him.
After this attack they end up going after the family members. To their luck Rosa and Enrique were not there when this occurred. Rosa was washing clothes; while Enrique was hiding out at the canyon. Fearing what these men are capable of they decide to speak to their Godmother and try to leave. Before embarking on their journey they ask many people for advice. They ask a man who has been to the United States before and he advises that he disguise himself linguistically as a Mexican Indian both in Mexico and the US. In case he is caught so he wont be forced to return to Guatemala where he would be killed. The man then also warns him that he will need a coyote in order to be smuggled across the border between Mexico and the US.
The second part of the movie takes place in Mexico. They attempt to stow away in a truck only to be found by the truck driver while changing a tire. Since he is Mexican, they try to learn from his behavior in order to fit in. After taking several busses they finally arrive at Tijuana, which is referred to by a fellow passenger as the “cagadero del mundo” which translates into the worlds toilet.
Upon their arrival, a man deceives them, he offers to help them; but in fact is after their money. They are discovered by US border patrol and are taken captive. The border patrol suspects that they are not Mexican, so in order to trick him into thinking so they are Mexican they start using Vulgar Mexican slang. They are then returned to Tijuana instead of Guatemala.
To be smuggled into Los Angeles Rosa sells her mothers necklace, which was the last piece of home they had. This is when they are stripped of their identity and personal belongings. They are then dropped off at a drainage tunnel, which begins in a dump in Mexico and ends at a drainage tunnel in the American side of the border. The tunnel is rat infested, and filthy. When they finally reach the US they are brought food and have their first experience of California. This would be considered their honeymoon phase. They are viewing their surroundings and seeing this place they consider paradise.
The next day Rosa begins working at a sweatshop and they begin living in a motel. During Rosas first day of work INS raids the shop. A co-worker helps her escape and instead suggests they go clean houses. She then goes to a local Sears in which she is exposed to the American Dream. She purchases bright clothing and makeup. This was her attempt to assimilate to the American culture.
As time progresses the hotel room turns into a cozy little apartment. They start taking English classes, and Rosa begins making more money. This is a combination of the negotiation phase and the adjustment phase. They really have nothing to negotiate and must adjust at this point for survival purposes.
Jealousy strikes with Enrique gets a promotion, a co-worker calls INS on him. At the same time Rosa becomes very ill and is forced to go to the hospital. She has no documentation and is only admitted because of the severity of her illness. Immigration raids Enrique’s job and he is forced to flee. When Enrique finds out that Rosa is ill he sticks by her because although so much has changed, he still values family.
In Rosas deathbed she states, “In our own land, we have no home. They want to kill us. … In Mexico, there is only poverty. We can’t make a home there either. And here in the north, we aren’t accepted. When will we find a home, Enrique? Maybe when we die, we’ll find a home.” She then dies. During this crisis Enrique is so numb that he looses touch with his feelings and true emotions. He doesn’t even attempt to pay respects to his sister.
Enrique has lost everything, his family, his culture, his identity, his ethnicity his job. Immediately following his sister’s death, he begins working again. Being picked up by a wealthy man in a BMW. Which brings us back to what his father said at the beginning of the movie for the rich, poor people are nothing more than pairs of arms to do their work. Enrique never reaches the adjustment phase, in the movie. He actually goes through some kind of transition shock. Pre-migration and post-migration he still faces the same issues he did at the beginning, and is still in search for the same thing; The American dream.