FOUR STARS – Uplifting, Powerful
Family relationships can be sacred. When families give their members love, commitment, acceptance, trust and forgiveness, they meet spiritual as well as emotional and physical needs. “My Family - Mi Familia” is an extraordinary representation of the spiritual and emotional power of family life which transcends racial and cultural differences.
Set within an immigrant family from Mexico settling in East Los Angeles, author and director Gregory Nava allows us to experience with them the full range of joys and sorrows of family relationships. No matter what the race of the viewer, we all see ourselves in the disappointments, sorrows, hopes and dreams of the Sanchez family. In a wonderful scene of the marriage of the oldest daughter, Jose (Eduardo Lopez Rojas), the patriarch of the family, proclaims the family to be the greatest of all riches.
The fact that the family does not have it easy, nor do all the children appreciate the struggles of their family, underscores the basic need for the spiritual value of a loving family life. Being a member of this kind of family means that even when we reject our parent’s values, the family continues to love us. Even when we fail them, the family forgives us.
The film is presented from the perspective of Paco (Edward James Olmos), the oldest child of Jose and Maria,. As such, the story he writes is a mosaic of impressions, memories and insights.
One insight which expresses both the strength and the joy of family life is the observation that in a large extended family, “there is not much difference between a family crisis and a party.” In this family, members are there for each other in sorrow and in joy. In both instances, the mixture of laughter and tears meld into a satisfying culmination. When one child, the charming and handsome Chucho (Esai Morales) rejects the values of the family and begins to deal drugs and becomes the leader of his gang, we feel the dynamic tension that can be present in every family.
Does a family demand conformity? Are there lines over which, if a family member crosses them, they are no longer welcome in the family home? And how will the family respond to the destruction experienced by the wayward family member? Forgiveness and unconditional love are the life-blood of family life. Only in the dysfunctional and spiritually impoverished family is there no possibility of reconciliation with the prodigal child.
In the spiritually strong family, there is faith that all things will work out, and a continual watching for the opportunity to help it happen. Maria (Jenny Gago), the matriarch of the family, is a woman of deep spiritual presence. Her faith in the continual care of the Virgin and her God gives the family a grace to see them through the journey. She confronts her angry, withdrawn son Jimmy (Jimmy Smits) with the statement that “Marriage is sacred. You do not spit on what is sacred.” The unfolding of the love and trust that develops with his mutually hurting young wife provide some of the most intimate scenes of married love on film.
Eventually, Jimmy must overcome the barriers separating him from his young son with the same tools of unconditional love, acceptance and commitment he received from his parents and learned first-hand with his wife. At the beginning of the film, Jose and Maria agree together as a young husband and wife that children are a great blessing, the greatest of blessings. At the end of the film, sitting at the same table, in the same room, decades later and having seen both the victories and tragedies of their family, they agree together, “We have lived a good life.”
Family is the community in which faith, hope and love can most powerfully be experienced. If these spiritual forces are missing, then our failure to preserve the sacred trust God gave to us will produce a faithless, hopeless and loveless world.