35 Years Later, “Stand and Deliver” is Still Latinx Gold

Edward James Olmos is Jaime Escalante in Stand and Deliver

Mi Vida Loca. Blood In Blood Out. Selena. There are several iconic and legendary Latinx movies that have celebrated anniversaries as of late, reminding us yet again of their cultural importance. This year, 1988’s Stand and Deliver joins the ranks, celebrating its 35th anniversary. After recently watching it again, I am sharing why this based-on-a-true-story film is a must-watch–for both Latinxs and non-Latinxs alike (and also pushing for it to be screened for the teens who have their own hangout area in the library I work in).

It’s a True Story of Latinx Excellence

Stand and Deliver is based on the true story of Bolivian teacher Jaime Escalante, who taught math at Garfield High School in East LA, helping his students reach academic excellence in the process.

Escalante was portrayed by Edward James Olmos, who has given us so many important Latinx performances over the course of his career (there are also several other Latinx actors in this film, including Andy Garcia and Rosanna Desoto). Not only is it great for Hollywood to focus on a stellar Latino teacher who truly cares about educating his students, but there is also a special moment where he lets his students know that mathematics is actually a part of their heritage. Mayans, after all, were one of the first civilizations to use the number zero. How many Latinxs would be more inspired to learn if they saw their own faces reflected in the textbooks?

It Shows How Teens Need Someone to Truly Believe in Them

Stand and Deliver - kitchen scene

I truly don’t know how teachers get through to teenagers. They’re rebellious and defiant, like to push boundaries and challenge authority, and literally have brains that aren’t fully developed yet. At their core, they want elders to believe in them and invest in them, but they will also do everything to reject the help and concern they crave. The students at Garfield High, already used to having a low bar set for them, aren’t used to having a new teacher see potential and brilliance in them. While they initially scoff at Jaime Escalante’s push to do better and be better, they eventually thrive under the structure, discipline, motivation, and inspiration that a teacher who cares provides. We need more people like Jaime Escalante to really care about kids, and this film inspires us to do our part in making sure the next generations are a success.

It Highlights How Inner-City Schools–And Their Students–Are Set Up to Fail

Stand and Deliver - students

We blame students for failing, but what environment are they failing in? Their school climate usually plays a big part in whether a child thrives or not. When we meet Jaime Escalante and his math class, the school is on the brink of losing its accreditation. The teachers are ready to jump ship for less stressful, better-paying jobs, and don’t believe the students are capable of going above and beyond what they have already been tasked with.

In addition to this, the kids are from lower-income households, which means they are often distracted from homework and studying by family obligations, jobs, and friends who have given up and want to get them into trouble. Like Escalante says in the film, “You only see the turn, you don’t see the road ahead.” A job will pay for what you want now, but an education can open doors to a totally different life.

And Not to Mention How Latinx Success is Often Questioned

Stand and Deliver - award

“You already have two strikes against you: your name and your complexion.” This is what Jaime Escalante tells his students. There is no privilege, no upper hand. In fact, everything is stacked against these students in East LA. They have to fight harder to get to where they want to go. It’s an inspirational–and often true–message for so many Latinxs. You can make it, but you will have to break barriers and shatter glass ceilings, and then show that you can thrive in a system that wasn’t designed for you.

With Escalante’s help, the teens at Garfield High School make it happen. They defy the odds. They show that they are smart and capable of not only the bare minimum but also of the excellence that is expected from students in more affluent areas. That’s why Stand and Deliver is as relevant as it was 35 years ago. Because it shows Latinxs in a positive light. Because it highlights Latinx excellence. And because it proves that anything can be achieved and accomplished if you truly have ganas.

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