Undocumented immigrants are human beings. As such, we have been graced with the same emotional needs, multilayered sensibilities, and intellectual complexities as everyone else on the planet. Such essential qualities are innate, not granted by a legal status. We are people who did not maliciously set out to break laws but who are all too often escaping dire economic circumstances or simply seeking to survive.
Like very few films out there, Jim McKay’s En el Séptimo Día (On the Seventh Day) understands this. The film addresses the undocumented experience with the genuine empathy of someone who seeks to learn and not patronize.
Told over the course of a week, McKay’s first feature effort in over a decade is a loving observation of the everyday plights and joys of a group of undocumented men from Puebla, Mexico who live, work, and play fútbol together in Brooklyn. At the heart of the story is José (Fernando Cardona), who works as an agile deliveryman and is also his team’s best player.
When asked to work on a particularly special Sunday – his only day off and the date of his soccer league final – José is faced with the dilemma of choosing between his job or his loyalty to his comrades. There are real stakes here, because the consequences of missing work to play the game are magnified by José’s dream of bringing his pregnant wife to the US.
Yet, what the fútbol game represents is a moment of normalcy in a life ridden with hardship. It provides a sense of community and belonging amongst a group of men who feel his same yearnings and fears. Above all, his eagerness to be present for his friends and his dedicated attempts to make it happen dignify undocumented lives without simplifying them. He can want both things and shouldn’t be expected to be quietly subservient to his job and dismiss an activity that fulfills him recreationally.
José is not an archetype hanging in the backdrop of a greater narrative, his humble ambitions are of major importance for him and those around him, and they deserve as much time in the limelight as any other quest for happiness.
Aside from employing non-actors from the very community it depicts, McKay’s adamant request to release the film in the United States with its Spanish-language title and subtitled in both Spanish and English, is a commendable act executed out of respect for his cast and the millions of experiences they reflect in their portrayals. At a time when people are being vilified for speaking their native tongue in a country without an official language, this move sends a strong counter message.
En el Séptimo Día tells Americans and the world that undocumented immigrants have full existences beyond just suffering and service. Our moments of unaltered enjoyment are fewer and may require more sacrifice to attain, but they exist because our purpose is not about personal enrichment but hope for those back home and those who walk with us here. The American Dream has nothing to do with America, but with those that make it happen for themselves, in a country that tirelessly tarnishes their character.