The Short Life of José Antonio Gutierrez


The Short Life of José Antonio Gutierrez
Heidi Specogna
2006, PS Film Zürich, Specogna Filmproduktion, TAG/TRAUM
90 minutes, Spanish and English

LATAMROB rating: ****

THE TALE OF José Antonio Gutierrez is a testament to the tragic hypocrisy of the USA when it comes to Latino immigration. For this is not just a story about a young man who was shot – becoming the first casualty of the Iraq war – it is a story literally shot through with irony. A Guatemalan immigrant to the US, José Antonio was good enough to die for the Land of the Free – but not good enough to be a citizen of it. Humbled by the scandalous death of this “green-card soldier”, the US authorities granted José posthumous citizenship and his sister was allowed to take his place in el norte. José’s story provides dramatic proof of the extent to which Latino immigrants – now fuelling the demographic explosion that has made Hispanics the largest minority in the US – get a super-raw deal from their chosen homeland. It also exposes the duplicity of Washington when it comes to Central America: forced from their villages by the genocidal CIA-backed counter-insurgency strategy in Guatemala, the remnants of José’s family gravitated towards Guatemala City, where poverty and bad luck eventually saw the young boy orphaned and living on the streets. Picked up by the dedicated workers of the Casa Alianza charity for street children, José was given a home and an upbringing, but remained haunted by his rootlessness and eventually made the difficult journey north through Mexico. There he found opportunity – but his yearning for a family drew him into the marines where – in the bitterest irony of all – his life was taken by so-called “friendly fire”. Director Heidi Specogna has done a fine job of telling us a story about the tragic consequences of living in the shadow of a giant, and about knowing who your real friends are. – EC