Film Report on American Me: A Therapeutic Perspective
"American Me" is a fictional film having a factual basis, starring and directed by Edward James Olmos. Released to the national theater circuit in 1992, "American Me" depicts the life of Rodolfo Cadena, a ranking Carnal (gang member) in the prison gang La Eme, also known as the Mexican Mafia. To therapeutically approach the salience and pervasiveness of gang membership, including its allure and reinforcers, would be a challenging task for any human service practitioner involving accuracy of assessment and effectiveness of treatment. However, endeavoring to find and implement such therapeutic methods and procedures for positive outcomes, while preserving Latino cultural identity and integrity, is precisely the purpose of this paper.
One of the parallel themes of “American Me” is that prisons are far more than warehouses for society's outcasts and baneful. They are, instead, recruiting stations and training camps for future generations of criminals and gang members. “American Me” reveals how a major portion of the crime syndicate came to be hosted from the “inside,” from within the many prison walls of the U.S. Department of Corrections (Baumgarten, 1992).
Knowing the destiny of Montoya Santana, the character played by Edward James Olmos, in growing up and into a revered and lifelong membership in the Mexican Mafia, including 18 years in Folsom Prison, the development of a comprehensive, although hypothetical, human service intervention plan is in order. This hypothetical, culturally appropriate, therapeutic intervention is to take place at the point young (16-year-old) Santana is first institutionalized in (juvie) the juvenile detention center. This “early” intervention should increase the probability of a successful therapeutic rapport and service plan, especially if the human service practitioner personifies or is knowledgeable of Santana’s ethnic and cultural traits within the context of his family and community.
By the age of 16, Santana’s worldview and identity is well established. He exhibits a strong internalization of his Chicano (a Latino subculture) heritage and has begun to experience and establish an awareness of what Peter Bohmer describes as “internalized colonialism:” the socially and economically structured practice of securing the labor of non-Whites for the least desirable, "dirty and servile" jobs that are unwanted by Whites (Bohmer, 1998). Forming his own gang seemed to be a “natural” alternative to becoming a “pawn” in the well-established system of internalized colonialism. His Latino gang became a sub-cultural “vent” for relieving much of young Santana’s social, economic, and personal hardships, as well as a means of developing self-respect through the illegal and coercive powers made possible by gang activity and gang unity.
The most effective counselor for young Santana would not necessarily have to be of the same...