(From left) Elpidia Carrillo, Esai Morales, and Jesse Borrego discuss the limited opportunities for Latino actors in Hollywood. Photo by Camille Garcia.

The Guadalupe Theater took on a little celebrity Friday for the opening night of the 38th annual CineFestival, with a standing room-only audience on hand for the first night showing of Director Gregory Nava’s 1995 classic ‘Mi Familia.’

CineFestival, the longest running Latino film festival in the country, showcases the work of Latino filmmakers and actors in feature-length, short, and documentary films, and is taking place at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center until Saturday, Feb. 27. For a full festival lineup, click here.

Opening night’s screening of “Mi Familia” was followed by a panel discussion with two of the film’s actors — Esai Morales and Elpidia Carrillo — moderated by local actor Jesse Borrego.All three drew exuberant cheers from the audience as they briefly appeared on stage before the film started. 

Festival-goers filled the Guadalupe’s lobby and front sidewalks as anticipation built for the evening. Loud applause greeted the opening credits for Morales and Carrillo and Nava as the film began and the theater filled with the familiar strains of the film’s award-winning soundtrack.

Set in East Los Angeles, the film depicts the lives and trials of three generations of a Mexican-American family whose patriarch and matriarch emigrated from Mexico against all odds to California. Narrated in Spanish and English by actor Edward James Olmos, who also plays one of the immigrant couple’s sons, the film’s most poignant and emotional scenes of love and loss and the harsh reality of racism in 1930s Southern California  moved audience members to laughter and tears, and even inspired some to rise for a standing ovation at as the film ended.

To start the panel discussion, Borrego asked Morales and Carrillo to reflect on their experiences as actors in the film as well as Latino actors in Hollywood.

For Morales, the “Mi Familia” script struck a chord with him and his real life struggle he had with his own father.

“The story was so beautiful and I felt the journey. It really, really affected me and it still does,” he said while wiping tears from his face.

Carrillo continued to express her gratitude to the audience for being there and supporting Latino films in general. She encouraged the majority Latino group to be more united as a community, and be inclusive of other Latino groups.

“We all need to respect and admire and be so grateful that we get to know each others’ cultures, because that’s how we grow,” she said.

Longtime neighborhood resident Samantha Flores said she appreciated getting the experience to interact with the panelists.

“In (Latino) culture, I think we’re naturally raised to be humble, so for (Morales, Borrego, and Carrillo) to come here to this part of town I think shows how humble they are and says something about the Latino culture in general.”

Loud applause and cheering concluded the night, but not before Morales urged the audience to play a more active role in consuming Latino-made art to leave a bigger mark on the arts world.

“We can’t be afraid of owning up to our own culture,” he said. “If we don’t tell our own stories, buy our novels, have a rich community of theater and arts, how can we make a difference?”

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*Top image: (From left) Elpidia Carrillo, Esai Morales, and Jesse Borrego discuss the limited opportunities for Latino actors in Hollywood. Photo by Camille Garcia.

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Camille Garcia

Camille Garcia is a journalist born and raised in San Antonio. She formerly worked at the San Antonio Report as assistant editor and reporter. Her email is camillenicgarcia@gmail.com