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'Spare Parts' Takes on Immigration and Inspires Dreams

Photograph by Ursula Coyote/Pantelion Films

The American dream is often defined as having the opportunity to achieve success and prosperity, through hard work, determination and initiative. It’s that dream that has inspired so many people, now and for decades before, to come to the United States. So, when four teenagers, from a low-income, underserved community rise up and beat students from some of the top universities like M.I.T and Cornell with their smarts, you can call it achieving the American Dream right? What if those four teenagers also happen to be undocumented immigrants? That’s more than a dream — that’s what movies are made of, and “Spare Parts” is definitely a film you’ll want to see.

“Spare Parts” is the true account of four undocumented teenagers from Carl Hayden Community High School, located in West Phoenix, Ariz., who — despite having every odd stacked against them — achieved the impossible. The movie was inspired by a 2005 article in Wired magazine.

In the film, reluctant teacher, Fredi Cameron, played by George Lopez, brings together a team of boys who learn to work together, despite their many differences. Oscar Vazquez, played by Carlos PenaVega, is the gung-ho ROTC student who initiates the project after his dreams of enlisting in the U.S. Army are dashed. Oscar and Cameron persuade an unlikely group with diverse talents to join forces to build an underwater robot and compete against the top mechanical and engineering schools in the country.

The team includes Lorenzo Santillan (Jose Julian), who typically uses his mechanical skills to break into cars; Cristian Arcega (David Del Rio), an electronics genius who is often bullied at school; and Luis Arranda (Oscar Gutierrez), a sort-of gentle giant who worries that people think he’s dumb. They band together to think of different ways to make an underwater robot — on an extremely tight budget made up of funds raised on their own.

The cast also includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Alessandra Rosaldo, Alexa PenaVega, Gerardo Ortiz and Academy Award-winner Marisa Tomei.

Photograph by Ursula Coyote/Pantelion Films

We got a chance to talk to the stars of the film about what this film means for Latinos, the Immigration debate and more.

Q: What impact do you feel “Spare Parts” will make on Latinos, or Latino parents and children?

Alessandra Rosaldo: I think the film will make a positive impact for today's generation. These are important times — we can see a light at the end of the tunnel for Latinos; in particular, undocumented people. It will be positive because it's a real story. This really happened, and it happened to four undocumented students in this country. Young kids can see this film and see themselves on the screen. They can see how four kids, like themselves, achieved a dream. ... It's an inspirational story, it's a story about achieving your dreams, of perseverance, of believing in yourself, of teamwork. … I think that all that will impact anyone who watches it positively.

Gerardo Ortiz: I think the movie shows that there's "ganas" and there are dreams, and it's a sentiment that touches everyone. For Latinos — and well, everyone — it's a great [example] to keep fighting on and get ahead.

George Lopez: It's important for the Latino culture because so few movies are made that are this powerful, and that are this real. But also, when I watch “Rocky” or “The Karate Kid,” I don't look at them as Italians, I look at them as underdogs who became heroes. It's important on that level too.

Q: The film touches on a huge, often heated issue of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. How do you feel a film like this will impact that debate, if at all?

Jamie Lee Curtis: I think it will have a big impact. Had this film come out six months ago, I think it would have been a different story. It would have just been another voice in the debate. I think what's happening is the President of the United States stood up before the end of the year and said, “I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore. I'm the President, and I am going to make some change because I can.” I think what he is proposing is brave and I think he is standing alone but we have a new Congress and there is an election coming. I think a movie like this coming after the President has made his statement, I think a movie like this if it's successful, will tilt and crack the debate. No one is suggesting amnesty, I think everybody is going to have to meet in the middle. I think there has to be a path to earn citizenship. We have 11 million undocumented people living in this country; they are living and vital to our community. I am a big law enforcement supporter; I believe without it, we have anarchy. But there has to be a new way to approach the "illegality" and make some way to a path of earned citizenship.

George Lopez: It's hard to change sides. Immigration is such a hot issue and it's been for years and years now. Somehow, Latinos have been made to feel like an enemy in a country where they provide so much on a daily basis. You know, if you even talk about somebody to watch your kids, and feed your kids, and bathe your kids, and change your kids, and your kids are your most important resource and the thing you guard the most, and then you are going to hire a Latina who will love that kid like it's her own, and then you disrespect them — it just doesn't seem fair. We should not be made to feel uncomfortable in a country that we provide so much for. We get disrespected and we're always the ones that get blamed if this is bad or if that is bad, or this or that. The benefits of having Latinos in this country working everyday far outweigh what anyone thinks is a negative.

Q: Studies have shown that there is a decline in interest in STEM-based subjects around the time of middle school. How do you think parents or community members can help keep kids inspired?

Alessandra Rosaldo: I have a 5-month-old baby girl, so luckily, I still have time to think about this. But, I think, as parents, part of our job is realizing and identifying our kids’ passions and talents, and nurturing those — whether it be music, science, math or whatever. Just to be there cheering them on.

Jamie Lee Curtis: I think people get inspired by other people. I think what made these boys reach the height that they reached is because somebody — two teachers in this case — reached them and said, "I believe in you." I believe when adults can look at someone, at a child, and say, "I believe in you," I think that kind of mentorship is life-changing.

“Spare Parts” is rated PG-13 and opened nationwide January 16, 2015.

Watch the movie trailer:

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