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Finding Flor And Christina
Spanglish opens in a suburb of Mexico City. Flor runs out to meet the school bus when it pulls up outside her modest home. Cristina, an adorable six year-old and the apple of Flor's eye, clutches her English primer as she rushes toward her mother. Their devotion to one another is evident in their embrace. We hear Crristina in voiceover as a young woman submitting an admissions letter for a scholarship to Princeton University.

The narration accompanies Flor and Cristina's journey from Mexico to the United States and it served as the starting point for Brooks. "I started with ten pages of narration that just sat in a drawer for a long time,” he says. But the salient theme of the story was already there in those few pages: The lengths to which a parent will go to protect and direct their child's moral integrity.

It was always vital to the film to have no subtitles in order to give reality to the story. The use of a narrator allows that.

The special bond between parent and child has been a through line in many of Brooks' films, most notably Terms of Endearment, I'll Do Anything and As Good As It Gets. In Spanglish he adds another layer, the complexities of cultural integration. As Ansell notes: "Flor is raising her daughter with a certain set of morals. In coming to America, especially when she gets to the Clasky house, those morals are endangered. Flor fears her daughter will be enticed by a completely different set of values — values she neither believes in nor has much regard for.”

Roughly five years ago, Brooks began to think in earnest about the characters of Flor and Cristina. In seeking to find their voices he turned to Christy Haubegger, founder of Latina Magazine. "I got a call from Julie Ansell saying that Jim Brooks was interested in writing a story with a Latina heroine,” recalls Haubegger. "When I met with him, I was incredibly impressed by his desire to get the character right – including all the details of her culture and history. As a Latina, I've tried to make a career of telling our stories and showing our faces with dignity and authenticity. So, I was eager to help him tell this story well.”

In the writing process, Brooks always spends a great deal of time researching his characters and nowhere was that more necessary than in Spanglish since he could not draw on personal experience for the character of Flor. "I think there's a segment of the audience you should care most about when you're working on any movie and that's the people you're writing about. They'll know if you're full of it or not. In this case, if Hispanics felt these portrayals were way off, I'd be devastated,” admits Brooks.

"He wanted to know what Latinas care about and what we struggle with,” states Haubegger. "Latinos are thought of as immigrants even though Spanish was the first European language spoken in North America and half of us were born here. Still, we don't necessarily assimilate in the same way as previous groups of immigrants did. It's more precise to say that we ‘acculturate,' which is to say we take on elements of our new culture while still hanging on to who we are. So the challenge of being a Latina who must navigate these two separate worlds and languages is something Jim really wanted to understand.”

Haubegger arranged numerous groups of young Spanish women for Brooks with Hispanic émigrés, as well as with children who had been raised by Spanish-speaking mothers. "I spent more than a year trying to capture these characters and to nail down their voices,” says Brooks. "I didn't want to depict some glib idea of Hispanic culture or convey some thin romantic notion of it, so I surrounded myself with people talking about the culture night and day.”

The women he met with were very candid about their personal experiences as immigrants. He was quite moved by some of the

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