Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño as Ulises Sampiero in I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) (IMDB)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

I'm No Longer Here / Ya no estoy aqui
Fernando Frias

Netflix

27 May 2020 (US)

Other

One of the most enduringly popular songs by Lisandro Meza, the King of Cumbia, is "Lejanía (Distance)". Over his accordion, he sings of "waiting for the hour to arrive to return to my land", a sentiment that echos the feelings of millions of migrants in the region.

Cumbia was born on the coast of Colombia from the blend of African, Indigenous, and Spanish musical styles and instrumentation, but later found a home in bodegas and discotecas throughout Latin America. As with other cultural forms, such as saint symbolism, modern art, and rock music, cumbia is reimagined and revitalized by Mexican artists. Lisandro Meza even gives a shoutout in the song "de Colombia para Mexico".

This transnational musical statement sets the stage for I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui), which subverts the classic "coming-to-New York to fulfill my dreams" narrative through the eyes of Ulises, a Mexican teenaged cumbia fanatic with a distinctive haircut. The film, written and directed by Fernando Frías de la Parra (best known for his work on HBO's Los Espookys), is a gripping glimpse into an immigrant's struggles on both sides of the border. The main character is performed with nuance and range by first-time actor Juan Daniel 'Derek' García Treviño.

His cumbia-loving crew, Los Terkos, (the stubborn ones) sing and dance their way out of trouble in the hilltop periphery of Monterrey, the second wealthiest city in Mexico and one of the nation's main thoroughfares into the United States. The skyline is visible from their base in an abandoned building, a refuge from parents telling them to turn down the music. The fruits of the globalized economy are unattainable, but the social fragmentation and chaos are an ever-present part of life.

(IMDB)

Ulises rubs shoulders with the local gang, who respect him for providing a cultural alternative to the draw of the booming drug trade. Ulises watches on as the police hold a periodic crackdown in an attempt to solve systemic issues with indiscriminate violence. In working-class corners of the city, residents live in fear of the gangs yet accept the groceries they provide. Politician campaign signs promising change are painted over. It's a flawed paradise with a fragile social structure that he's learned to navigate and survive.

An escalating turf war disrupts everything Ulises knows and a misunderstanding soon forces him and his family to flee for their lives. The other Terkos send a message of support through the local radio station, which he hears from a hidden compartment in a van of heading across the border. He's forced to leave his community and on a thirdhand recommendation he makes his way to New York to work with a crew of day laborers. No one understands him and he's mocked for his style, one of the few reminders of who he was, along with the portable music player featuring all his favorite songs that he carries with him.

The film shows the countless immigrant groups brought together under the shadow of the 7 train in Queens, one of the most diverse geographic swaths in the world. Ulises befriends Lin (Xueming Angelina Chen), the grandniece of a Chinese shopkeeper and building-owner for whom he does some cleanup work. They communicate through a translating dictionary, as he shows her videos of himself dancing and explains to her the dynamics of his life back home. Her silence toward the community about him is the only reason that he has a place to sleep at night. Their friendship is uneven, with Ulises needing Lin much more than she needs him, hurtling everything to a break.

From pay phones, Ulises tries to find a way to connect to his former life several times but finds over and over again that it has left him behind. Migration is an inevitable byproduct of change, and people have always moved to seek opportunities for better lives. Something within him, however, stays behind.

Crying is a Mexican pastime, says author Alma Guillermoprieto in The Heart that Bleeds. This in part explains the popularity of Morrissey and the myth of 'La Llorona' (a woman who drowns her children and is forever haunted and haunting). I'm No Longer Here is firmly in this tradition of perpetual sorrow, especially at its end. I'm No Longer Here is also part of a growing body of social realist films coming out of Latin America that shows how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances. Colombian film Los nadies (The Nobodies) (2016) is another standard of the genre that painstakingly reveals teenagers trying to be free and young in a setting that limits those possibilities.

Near the end of I'm No Longer Here, a voiceover laments that Mexico is located next to the highest consumer of drugs and the highest exporter of guns. This is a timely reminder that the causes of Latin America's pain often falls on the American doorstep, and no quantity of concrete wall can block this truth.

In the masterful Tell Me How It Ends, a book-length essay about the undocumented children caught in the asylum process, Valeria Luiselli writes, "[P]erhaps the only way to grant any justice—were that even possible—is by hearing and recording those stories over and over again so that they come back, always, to haunt and shame us." I'm No Longer Here is a necessary and magnificent addition to the narrative.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.