188 Oscar Nominations: Any Mexican-Americans Finally Honored?

This morning 188 individual Academy Award nominations were announced. Oscar nominees run the gamut from just about the most famous people in the world to a fair number of Southern California technicians whom you`ve never heard of but who have, by the norm of the average American worker, really good jobs. Thus, today`s names range from Daniel Day-Lewis as Best Actor nominee for Lincoln down to 15 sound mixers.

As a long-time student of both the Vibrant New Face of America and of dogs that don`t bark, I`ve been fascinated by how few of the vast number of Mexican-Americans* ever get nominated for Oscars and how nobody ever notices. 

* I`m defining Mexican-Americans as somebody of sizable Mexican ancestry who was either born here or at least spent at least some of his youth in the U.S. Thus, Anthony Quinn — born in Mexico, but raised mostly in L.A. — counts. Guillermo del Toro — raised in Mexico as the son of an automobile company CEO, only coming to America as a trained professional from the Mexican entertainment industry — doesn`t count. He`s Mexican, not Mexican-American.

The last Mexican-American nominated in any of the glamor categories such as acting, screenwriting, or cinematography (and that`s stretching the word “glamor” pretty far) was Edward James Olmos for 1988`s Stand and Deliver.

But, what about the technical categories?

Looking through today`s endless list, I see a few Spanish surnames, but they turn out to be born in Barcelona or Chile. 

Finally, I get to one possibility: Jose Antonio Garcia, one of the three sound mixers on “Argo.” Garcia has been working on Hollywood productions since being a boom operator on “Tales from the Crypt” in 1980s. No information is available on where he was born or raised. (There are a lot of other Jose Garcias out there, which makes searching difficult.)

He occasionally works on movies by elite Mexico City directors, such as “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” suggesting he speaks Spanish and has a work permit for Mexico. In La Opinion, the Los Angeles Spanish language newspaper, the headline reads (translated): “Mexican Jose Antonio Garcia competes for Oscar.” So, I`d give about fifty-fifty odds that he grew up in Mexico, and isn`t a Mexican-Amerian. But, he could be Mexican-American, too.

Anyway, the point is that this pattern helps explain the popularity of Mexican immigration among American elites: Having a vast number of Mexican-Americans around lowers wages at the low end but doesn`t produce any noticeable competition for elites or their kids at the high end.

Disparate impact? What`s that?