For the past four years, 9-year-old Carlitos Reyes (Adrian Alonso) has been living with his elderly grandmother, Benita (Angelia Pelaez), in their small Mexican hometown in hopes that his mother, Rosario (Kate del Castillo), will either return from L.A., where she's working two jobs as an undocumented domestic in a wealthy gated community, or even better, arranges for him to join her in the U.S. In the meantime, Carlitos does odd jobs for Dona Carmen (telenovella queen Carmen Salinas), a local businesswoman who organizes illegal border crossings for Mexican workers, and waits impatiently for Sunday mornings when, at 10 am sharp, Rosario calls him from the same pay phone on a busy corner in East L.A. Carmen has promised Rosario that she would never help Carlitos to sneak across the border no matter how much he begs, but when his grandmother passes away in her sleep, Carlitos has no choice but to attempt the trip on his own. He knows that as soon as they learn of Benita's death, his greedy aunt (Maria Rojo) and uncle (Gustavo Sanchez Parra) will take him in, not because they care about him (the don't), but because they want the $300 Rosario sends home each month. With little time to lose -- he needs to make it all the way to L.A. before Rosario tries calling him on the following Sunday -- Carlitos takes all the money he'd been saving and contacts Marta (America Ferrara) and her brother, David (Jesse Garcia), two nervous Mexican-Americans in need of tuition money who recently approached Carmen about transporting children who'd been separated from their parents across the border for cash. Marta and David hide Carlitos in a cramped compartment under the back seat of their van, but after a tense inspection at the border station, the vehicle is impounded -- with Carlitos still hidden inside. The good news is that he's now on the U.S. side of the border. The bad news is that he's now entirely on his own.
Riggins cuts back and forth between Carlitos' perilous week-long journey across the southwest -- he's soon in the company of a grouchy migrant worker (popular comedian and TV star Eugenio Derbez) who has little interest in looking after a kid -- and Rosario's difficult life in L.A. The film is basically a melodrama that plays on the deep emotional bond between mother and child, but Riggins pulls no punches when it comes to showing the reality of lives torn apart by illegal migration. Carlitos is nearly sold to a pimp by a desperate junkie and works briefly for a tomato grower who uses dangerous, vision destroying pesticides, all the while dodging the "migras" from INS who would deport him back to the Mexico. Rosario, meanwhile, works for a rich woman (Jacqueline Voltaire) who shamelessly uses Rosario's illegal status to exploit her. Desperate to be reunited with her son, Rosario even considers marrying Paco (Gabriel Porras), a nice guy with a good job and, more importantly, American citizenship whom she simply doesn't love. It's an unexpectedly powerful little film that manages to say a lot of what, despite all the talk on the subject, isn't being said in the national debate on immigration. leave a comment --Ken Fox
A cast mostly made up of popular Spanish-language television stars put human faces on the increasingly dehumanizing debate on immigration in Patricia Riggin's deftly directed, tear-jerking feature debut.