From Issue 17: "The Mexican Strikes It Big in Hollywood," Michael Leal García

The Mexican Strikes It Big in Hollywood

Michael Leal García

Reading time: ~5 minutes

From the Editor:  I have a particular interest in how people are cast at big studios. One might call it a vested interest. But it was less the subject matter and more the narrator of Michael Leal García's short fiction that made me want this story in our pages; Garcia's hero is fielding attacks from every corner: his own mother doesn't understand what's happening. Read on to get to know him. 

—Yi Shun Lai, Fiction Editor

When the director says, “Action,” I grab a fistful of the frightened blonde’s hair, slam her against the wall, and say, “Do you like chorizo?” In the next scene, I throw her off a roof. 

At the King Taco in Cypress Park, as I’m chowing down on sopes, some homie in a Dodgers jersey notices me. “Oh, shit!” he says. “You’re that one foo’ in the movies.”

His homie looks me up and down. “He the foo’ in Fast and Furious?”

“Nah. He’s the foo’ that one motherfucka shot in the dick.”

The homie double overs laughing.

I smile, toss the rest of my sopes, and leave.

The next week, I play the head vato—that’s what the script actually says, HEAD VATO, no name—amongst a group of wife-beater and khaki-wearing cholos. Under the dying palm trees of Elysian Park, we chill beside our lowriders and drink forties. We use our cholo accents—think Edward James Olmos in American Me—and call each other “ese” or “homes” and tag every other sentence with “ey.” Then the hot new twenty-something actress who played Liam Neeson’s wife in her last movie gets a flat and asks for help. I say, “You wanna ride on my stick shift?”

For a more authentic cholo look, the make-up artist airbrushes the number 13 on my neck. I forget about it until a cop pulls me over and asks, “Where you from?” His right hand on the grip of his gun.

“Nowhere,” I say, trying to remain mannequin-still. “I’m an actor. I’m not really a gangbanger.”

The cop scoffs, says he smells weed, and searches my car. He comes up short but still gives me a fix-it ticket for a broken taillight that doesn’t exist.

At dinner my mom doesn’t say shit, just swirls her chicken around the salsa verde on her plate. She just saw my last movie. I played your run-of-the-mill wetback.

“It’s make-believe,” I say for the thousandth time and fork another piece of chicken.

“It’s stupid is what it is,” she says. “Lo siento, meester. I too estupid to wash joo shoes. You took money to say that. Who the hell is that even supposed to be?”

“It pays the bills.”

She shakes her head. “Can’t you be a good guy for once?”

My agent tells me about an urban adaptation of The Great Gatsby set in the seventies. “Here’s the twist: Gatsby’s a niiiii—black. He’s black—and he makes his fortune pimping bitches in Hollywood. I didn’t mean to say—never mind. You would play Jorge, the George Wilson character.”

On my way to Barnes & Noble for a copy of The Great Gatsby, I hit up the Glendale Galleria for some new kicks. But the automatic doors won’t open. I wave my arms, walk back and forth, nothing. The shoppers inside saunter by.

On the cover of The Great Gatsby, the disembodied eyes of a woman stare through the reader. A luminous green tear falls along her nonexistent cheek. Down the aisle, a woman in a USC sweater holds two books: Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. She scrutinizes one book and then the other.

“Give Homegoing a try,” I tell her. “It’s depressing, but it ends with a sense of—”

The woman tosses Homegoing onto the shelf and walks away. I can’t tell if she heard me.

Michael Leal Garcia had this to say about "The Mexican Strikes It Big in Hollywood." 

This story came to life at the movies—well, Netflix. I noticed a particular Mexican actor whom I’d seen in a multitude of movies. Throughout his twenty-year career, he has shared scenes with the biggest names in Hollywood, but he almost always plays the part of a cholo or some generic hoodlum. With him in mind, I thought about what it meant to be a Mexican actor in Hollywood, what it meant to be a nobody.

Michael teaches and writes in Los Angeles, CA. Find out more at Twitter: @michaellealg.