For most of her life, actress and filmmaker Jessica Mendez Siqueiros used her white father’s last name. Although her Mexican roots where strongly instilled in her from childhood, the outside world never thought of her as Latina. Eventually, to embrace her heritage even further, she chose to take both her grandmother and her mother’s maiden names as her own.
Recently screened at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, Pozole, her first effort as a writer-director, grapples with these at-odds identities through gallows humor following the untimely death of a Mexican-American matriarch. Like Mendez Siqueiros, the short film’s protagonist Maia (Ana Isabel Dow), isn’t fluent in Spanish and is mostly vegan — “shortcomings” that alienate her from her traditional family.
Knowing too well what it’s like to be seen as a gringa, the Chicana storyteller describes Pozole as “a cultural commentary on how we keep ourselves divided.” At the same time, her lively choices in production design, comedic tone, and lyrical soundtrack function to repel the stereotypical dreary-look of movies about Latinos facing hardships. By placing Chicano characters in highly aesthetic spaces with vibrant colors, she is reclaiming a vision of storytelling often only associated with white creators like Wes Anderson. “My goal is to challenge the perceptions of what we are allowed to be, who our audiences are, how we are represented, and what we look like.”
Horrified equally by both dishes, she debated whether to center the short on pozole or menudo. Ultimately, the former offered a more striking visual via a pig snout which in turn serves as grotesque symbol for death and the morbid joy brought back to it after cooking. The director had her associate producer, fellow Latina Michelle Felix, calling carnicerías all over Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the dramedy was shot, to find the right pig head.
In thinking about why not eating meat and not speaking Spanish are so negatively perceived within the Mexican-American community, she explained that for Chicanos every detail is important in how they hold on their culture. “It becomes a bigger deal because there is a sense of loss if you choose to let go of something that’s that culturally important.”
Mendez Siqueiros is currently looking for support for her debut feature Reforma, which will observe race relations between Latinos and African Americans in the Tucson projects, where her mother grew up. She is also currently working on her Spanish fluency so that no one can call her a gringa behind her back ever again.
Pozole played as part of the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival.