When Demian Bichir expresses his sentiments regarding the treatment that many politicians in the United States give to the issue of immigration and, particularly, undocumented immigrants, it’s clear that the issues stem from personal experience.
There is clear outrage and impatience in his voice.
Bichir, 52, recently appeared in a video sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in which he explains to the undocumented community how to react and behave if immigration agents come knocking on your door.
“In the event of a raid, stay calm, you have rights,” says the actor in the video, providing detailed instructions on how to defend oneself in the event of a “visit” from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) .
This Mexican actor, famous in Mexico for his work in theater, television and film, and whose career in the United States includes an Oscar nomination and acclaim for his role as Detective Marco Ruiz in the FX series “The Bridge”, was also an undocumented immigrant in this country and knew what it was to live in the shadows and with a “crooked” social security number.
When Bichir starred as Carlos Galindo, an undocumented gardener in the movie A Better Life (2011), he did not have to look far to know what his character felt. Thirty years after coming to the United States, having a dual U.S. and Mexican citizenship, and being a famous and sought actor, he still feels and thinks the same way he felt then: the vast majority of his countrymen come to this country “to make many people’s lives easier.”
“We should not have to be telling you how to defend yourself in case of a raid. For me, this is terrible. We should be telling you where to go to get your documents, your license, and your residence. That was what President Barack Obama promised, and unfortunately, he is leaving his administration without fulfilling it,” he said.
Bichir, who moved to New York at 22, legalized his status through the 1986 Amnesty Act. He thinks his countrymen deserve the same opportunity that he, and nearly 3 million other people, benefited from in 1986 through the Act to get his documents and “start over.”
But today, the political atmosphere is very different. Instead of guiding the undocumented to get their documents, you have to tell them how to protect themselves from raids at dawn that, according civil rights organizations, have been performed in violation of their civil rights.
Bichir blames the American government for its “contradictory” immigration policy, and the government of Mexico for not being able to provide a dignified and respectful life for their citizens. In particular, he considers the staggering record of deportation during President Obama’s administration and the latest raids on women refugee from Central America to be “a contradiction.”
“I think some of the actions that are being taking against undocumented go against the most basic principles that founded this country,” Bichir said.
A conversation with Demián Bichir
What was your reaction to the things that have been said during the United States presidential campaign? That Mexicans are all criminals, or that everyone should be deported, for example.
“It is well known that the political class uses any kind of trickery and offense in order to get a few votes here and there. They benefit from the freedom they have to say all kinds of offensive atrocities. But I think the responsibility is on the bulk of the American people, who should not simply believe what these politicians say, but should rather wonder how they [the politicians] will do all these things.
These are terrible, offensive promises to get rid of millions of human beings that make people’s lives easier and better. On one hand, they need us and, on the other, they want us to leave. They must choose one, there cannot be both. Those citizens must ask Trump or Cruz how they plan to deport 10 million people or build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. As far as I know, Mexico has no intention of doing such a thing.
There are two Latinos in the presidential race: Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. They also have a tough anti-immigrant platform although their families have benefited from the immigration generosity of this country. Does being Latino make a difference?
One would think that we are the same, and that we all want the common good. It seems to me that Cruz and Rubio honor the party they represent. Fortunately, there is a Bernie Sanders, who brings a balance to all these crazy things that you hear. The best thing that can happen to Sanders or Hillary Clinton is that Trump becomes the Republican nominee. One thing is the folklore of this man’s witticism, and another that the rest of the American people vote for him. I do not think this is going to happen.
You were also undocumented… You worked at a Mexican restaurant in New York in the eighties!
Yes, thanks to the amnesty I could get my documents. When I moved to New York I worked with a social security number that was not mine and then, thanks to the amnesty, many of us were able to start “from scratch.” But this must make us remember that millions of undocumented immigrants pay millions of dollars in Social Security that they never use or cash. It would be important to remind them that, in addition, undocumented immigrants also contribute in many other ways to the economy of this country.
Your film, A Better Life, what did it bring to the discussion of this issue in the United States?
A few days ago we met with the director of A Better Life, Chris Waltz, in Des Moines, Iowa, for the screening of the film at a festival organized by the activist Jose Antonio Vargas. We talked to many people there and I think it was an important movie to educate many Americans on the true story of the undocumented workers.
The film shows that, the problem is not political, but human. Politicians use it to get votes. Obama did that twice. Others do it. Now they use it to say a lot of atrocities in this campaign. But here it also hides a monstrous fact: we are constantly separating families, in a country that boasts being the most powerful and civilized force on the planet. What would come after raids? Asking people to wear a bracelet with the letter I that stands for “illegal”, as they say? No one is illegal.
What is Mexico’s responsibility in this matter?
We’ve said it a lot of times. Everyone has abused this community of human beings and benefited from it. Mexico is probably not interested in doing anything because these migrants represent a huge annual amount of money in remittances. And Mexico is not only in debt with millions of undocumented Mexicans who are here, but with 60 million poor people living there, to whom they have not been able to provide the basic things they need to live with fairness, dignity and peace.
Demian Bichir was born in Mexico City, on August 1, 1963.
Bichir belongs to a family of actors including his parents and his brothers Odiseo and Bruno.
Although he dreamed of becoming a soccer player as a child, he wound up in the acting field, like the rest of his family. His first foray in the performing arts was at the National Theatre Company of Mexico, where he started at age 13.
At 22, he moved to New York with his girlfriend at that time, to train at the Lee Strasberg Institute and worked as a bus boy in the Rosa Mexicana Restaurant. From that experience at the restaurant he remembers “learning to make very good guacamole” (irony of life, going to New York to do that), while learning English.
He briefly moved to Los Angeles, where he was not lucky, and finally returned to Mexico, where his career started strongly in film and television.
The actor’s success bloomed in Mexico before it did back in the United States, winning an Ariel (Mexican Oscar) for his work on the film “To Die” and starring in the popular “Sex, Shame and Tears.” His performance record in Mexico accumulated dozens of roles and, in 2001, he got his first Hollywood role in the movie “Time of Butterflies” with Salma Hayek. In 2008, he played the revolutionary Che Guevara in “Che.”
He played an important role in the Showtime series Weeds, which made him known amongst the American audience. He was nominated for an Oscar for his role as the undocumented immigrant Carlos Galindo in “A Better Life” and won the Screen Actors Guild and the Independent Spirit Award.
In 2013, he starred in the series The Bridge FX and, among many other projects, he recently starred in the latest film by Quentin Tarantino, the Hateful Eight.
When the American Civil Liberties Union ACLU named Bichir its “ambassador of immigrants” in 2014, the actor told reporters he hoped to represent Latinos who live and work in the United States. “I’ll be the voice for 12 million people who do not have one right now,” he said then. “I will go to Congress and the White House and do what I have to do to tell everyone what this community really makes for us all.”