The fight between professional boxers Julio César Chávez and Oscar De La Hoya remains one of the most talked-about matches of our generation – never mind the fact that it happened a quarter of a century ago. “What I do remember about that fight was how it divided my household,” director Eva Longoria Bastón tells Remezcla. “I remember it was such a big thing. I don’t think I have ever seen a fight with that much excitement.”
The fight and its significance went far beyond the boxing world. It took on enormous cultural connotations as well and that is the subject of La Guerra Civil (The Civil War). The full-length feature documentary is a first for Longoria and opened the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Though Longoria is a long-time boxing fan she admits to not wanting to tell a story of stats and standings -that simply didn’t interest her. Instead, she wanted to explore the cultural story. More specifically, what does it mean to be Mexican enough?
That question came out of the June 1996 fight. “Boxing has been one of the sports that has always leaned into using race and nationality as a promoter. You know, ‘The Black guy against the Italian. The Brit against the American.’ This fight was no different,” says Longoria. “The fight really did everything to show them as opposites. The young guy versus the old guy. The champion versus the up-and-comer. The Mexican against the ‘Golden Boy.’ In the documentary, you realize ‘oh, they are cut from the same cloth.’”
That was then, what about now? “I think it’s something that our community still faces. We are not monolithic. But sometimes we focus on our differences when we have way more similarities. And we have bigger fights to fight outside of a ring,” Longoria says. Healthcare, voting, and education being among the examples that she gives for the community to focus on.
As for the question of “What is Mexican enough?,” Well, Longoria says, that’s up to you.
“I think your identity is personal and it’s only defined by you. I don’t think you can allow society to do it or other cultures to do it. You know who you are. You know what you feel like.” And that certainly is the case for one of the film’s subjects, Oscar De La Hoya. “Oscar by all sense and purposes felt Mexican. He grew up in a Mexican household. He grew up speaking Spanish. He grew up eating Mexican food. He grew up listening to Mexicans. So, when others go ‘but you’re not Mexican’ it’s painful. You know your own cultural experience with this world.”
What isn’t up for debate is a fact that is now in the 2022 history books. “You know, there is really something to say about a Chicana-directed film about two Mexican boxers opening Sundance. There is a shift there. And that is something that we should applaud.”
Indeed Eva Longoria. Indeed.