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Culture > Entertainment

¡Viva Mexico!: My Favorite Mexican Biopics

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

As a first generation Mexican-American, I grew up having very little representation of my culture in film and media. I knew how beautiful and strong my people have always been, but not seeing that on the big screen had a huge impact on me in my most formative years. In school, I grew up with people telling me that Mexicans weren’t important enough to be the center of powerful, life-changing stories, and that there were no stories of Mexicans that needed to be told. But as I got older, thankfully, I was able to see that that wasn’t true and, with the strength from Mexican biopics about influential Mexican people, I saw that I was right all along. Now, it was everyone else’s turn to see what I had always known. These beautiful stories are some of my favorite ones that show the strength, resilience, love, intelligence, and so much more that Mexicans have always embodied and will always embody. I hope to share that beauty with as many people as I possibly can. 


Not only is this movie one of my favorite Mexican biopics, it’s one of my favorite movies of all time. “Selena” tells the story of the tragically short life of Selena Quintanilla, the Queen of Tejano music. Quintanilla was on the fast track to become one of the largest singers of her generation,  winning awards, selling out shows, and breaking records with her music, all by the age of 23. But unfortunately, that was all cut short when Yolanda Saldivar, the manager of Selena’s boutiques and president of her fan club, murdered her on March 31, 1995. 

The death of Quintanilla devastated millions, so it came to no surprise that less than two years later, on March 21, 1997, the movie Selena starring Jennifer Lopez as the late singer, was released. This movie followed the life of Quintanilla from childhood all the way to her death, and also showed her accomplishments and her impact on the music industry. One of my favorite things about the movie is its ability to show why Quintanilla and her family didn’t realize that Saldivar was an issue until it was too late, which was something almost unknown to the public prior to the movie. The Quintanilla family worked very closely with the production of the film, ensuring that the legacy of Selena didn’t die with her. Recently, there’s been a lot of talk on whether or not this movie was made far too soon, some people saying that the movie was only made so that her family could make money from her death. However, as someone who has done loads of research on Selena and the Quintanilla family, I believe that the quickness of this movie was to keep Selena and her dream of being a global superstar alive. Selena had massive dreams — she was even working on her first ever English album at the time of her death, but unfortunately, the opportunity to make her dreams come true was ripped away from her. By making the Selena movie, her family was helping her keep that dream alive, even in death. As someone who’s watched it tons of times in my life, it is a beautiful movie that celebrates her life perfectly. 

I recommend watching this movie simply because Selena was one of the most amazing people to have ever lived. She was not only incredibly talented but she was kind, beautiful, and was the most amazing role model for young Mexican girls. She proved that she had the power and the talent to be just as appreciated as any white singer. I grew up with a mom that absolutely loved Selena and who had the opportunity to see her multiple times in concert, so I am so grateful that Selena has been present in my life for as long as I can remember. So,  please watch “Selena” and see how beautiful she was, inside and out. 

McFarland, USA

“McFarland, USA” is one of my favorites to put on during family movie nights due to the strong themes of love, support, friendship, and community. This film is about the incredible true story about the McFarland Cross Country team, a group of young Mexican-American students led by Jim White, the coach who took a chance on these boys. McFarland is a low-income, farm country, predominantly hispanic, small California town where the youth don’t have many opportunities to make it out of McFarland. With the introduction of White to McFarland High School after being fired from a head coach position at a high school in Idaho, he starts the track team and supports the members to the very end. The 1987 Cross Country team, the first coached by White, went on to win the first ever CIF-State Cross Country Championships. 

However, the film is not a documentary, so there are multiple changes from the true story, but the overall impact stays the same. Some of the most important changes are that Jim White never taught at a school in Idaho, although he did attend high school and college there. In reality, he moved to McFarland after graduating college because, at his high school, he was one of 4,000 students and said he “felt like a number,” especially since he didn’t have a close relationship with his own coach. So, he wanted to go somewhere where he could have an impact, which ended up being McFarland. White started the McFarland Track Club in 1973 and started up the Cross Country Club in 1980, and it was a hit from the start, becoming a dominant program amongst small schools in Northern California. In 1986, the cross country club went undefeated, which is what led them to win the CIF-State Cross Country Championship in 1987. White would celebrate the athletes’ win, saying that their practices were always scheduled to fit around the boys’ jobs in the fields and that they would use the almond trees for shade as they practiced to avoid the heat. 

I was first introduced to McFarland, USA in middle school, during a unit about farmworkers in California. I started sobbing near the end of the movie and, while the rest of my classmates stared at me like I was deranged, my teacher pulled me aside and asked if I was okay. I told him that it just was so rare for me to see Mexicans succeed at something and be praised for it, let alone have a movie made for them. Since then, I have introduced the movie to my family and friends, wanting them to see this beautiful story of community, endurance, and triumph. 

A Million Miles Away

If you’re ever in the mood to watch a story about resilience and accomplishing your dreams, A Million Miles Away is a perfect fit. This emotional film tells the true story about Jose Hernandez, migrant farmworker turned astronaut, played by one of my favorite actors, Michael Pena. Hernandez and his family would travel from Mexico to California to work in the fields; Hernandez and his siblings would work as well despite their young age. Then one day, after watching the moon landing, Hernandez begins dreaming of becoming an astronaut and going to space. Unfortunately, due to his family’s situation, Hernandez isn’t able to focus on school — that was, until his teacher, Miss Young, goes to Hernadez’s parents and tells them that she thinks Hernandez would be capable of great things if they settle in one place and allow him to get the education he needs to reach his goals. Thankfully, her words struck gold in their hearts and the Hernandez family settled in Stockton, California. Hernandez then goes to attend the University of the Pacific and the University of California Santa Barbara. After graduating, he gets rejected from NASA a total of 11 times before he is finally accepted on his 12th try into the 2004 astronaut candidate class. 

Of course, while the movie is quite accurate to real life, some things are different. The first thing is that Hernandez’s goal of becoming an astronaut didn’t come so early in life. It was actually in his senior year of high school when he was listening to the radio and heard about Franklin Chang-Diaz, the first Hispanic-American to be chosen to go to space. Hernandez was already very interested in science and engineering so he thought, “I want to fly in space.” He then spent every day from that moment striving to get to space. And his dreams were answered when he was chosen for the 2004 astronaut candidate class, then completed his Astronaut Candidate Training. Then, in 2009, he was chosen as the mission specialist on the STS -128 mission onboard the International Space Station. Hernandez gives tons of credit to his wife, Adela Hernandez, who supported him through all 11 rejections and even put her own dream of owning a restaurant on hold to support his dream. When Hernandez went on his mission to the ISS, he asked Adela if he could take her wedding ring with him, so that even while he was in space, their love would be together with him. 

The first time I watched “A Million Miles Away” was on a nine hour flight to London and was probably a horrible decision because I was sobbing midway through the movie. I then found Hernandez’s daughter, Vanessa Hernandez, on TikTok and cried even more seeing her talk about how proud she is to be his daughter. It’s the stories like this that make me so proud to be Mexican. Despite everything, Hernandez never gave up and he proved through strength and resilience, with tremendous support from his family and friends, that he could in fact reach for the stars. 

These are only a small handful of beautiful biopics about Mexicans that I wish everyone would watch at least once in their lives. Seeing Mexicans receive their flowers for their accomplishments always leaves me in tears and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I cannot wait for more movies to be made about us to further show the world just how amazing and inspiring we are; that we are Mexicans not Mexican’ts.

Adamari Ruelas

CU Boulder '26

Adamari Ruelas is a contributing writer for the Her Campus chapter at CU Boulder. Her job within Her Campus is to write at least two articles a month, one contributing to a theme week. Outside of Her Campus, Adamari is a first-generation college student who is currently a sophomore at the University of Colorado Boulder, majoring in English Creative Writing. During her spring semester of freshman year, Adamari studied abroad in London, wanting to learn about different cultures while also being able to study in a Literature-rich city. Adamari also interned at the Aurora Public Schools Communications Department during her senior year of High School, where she learned how to write articles, interview subjects, and create social media posts for the department under the guidance of multiple professionals. In her free time, Adamari enjoys reading and writing, at least when she isn’t hanging out with her friends or playing Overwatch with her little siblings. She is a very proud Mexican-American who loves sharing her culture as long as Mexican history with anyone who lends an ear. Adamari is also a massive nerd, especially with Harry Potter (she’s a Ravenclaw btw) and Marvel. In the future, Adamari hopes to become a published author, sharing her works with the world and hoping they help people the way books have helped her.