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Pancho, College Bound: Chicano Creator’s Debut Film About University Life is Already a Winner

Recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau state that of the 16.6 million college students enrolled in colleges across country in 2003, 10 percent were Hispanic. Of those 1.6 million Hispanic students, at least one is a student like Pancho, very poor but determined; excited about going to college but unsure of its expectations.

Pancho is the lead character in the independent film Pancho Goes to College about a young Chicano who attends college, where he is faced with new challenges, new friends and a new kind of life. The humorous and down-to-earth story is the debut film of writer, director and producer Rubén Reyes. Pancho Goes to College is his first film, and it took him three years to complete it. He also financed the project himself.

The film is making the rounds at independent festivals in Mexico and the United States. It has received two, first-place awards at the East LA Chicano Film Festival and was an official selection at the first Cine Chicano Festival in Mexico City. The film has already been shown at the East L.A. Community College and is scheduled to be screened at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Screenings are also planned at Arizona State University in Phoenix and the University of Michigan, as well as other universities and colleges across the U.S. While the movie, which has been described as “a Chicano Animal House with heart,” is garnering much attention, a mainstream distributor has not yet picked it up.

“This story has never been told on film, not with Chicanos as the main theme in a university,” says Reyes. “Stand and Deliver and a handful of other films focus on Hispanic students in high school, but there’s never been one about the college campus.

“And while there have been many Hollywood-produced films with college as a theme (Animal House, Accepted, Old School), none of them deal with people of color,” says Reyes. “Only Spike Lee’s School Daze brought up the issue of race…and these facts, coupled with what I thought were interesting and colorful anecdotes of my own college experience, motivated me to produce my own film.”

Reyes, a 1988 graduate of the University of Arizona, where he received his bachelor of arts degree in radio-television production, says the film is not autobiographical, but it includes many truths and events centered on his life: The main character, Pancho, for example, is a migrant farm worker, as Reyes was.


“Summering” in the Migrant Fields

Reyes was born in San Luis, Mexico, but raised in Somerton, Arizona. From this small town, his parents and family worked as migrant farm workers, mostly in northern California (Salinas).

“I used to joke to my friends that I would leave for my ‘summer home’ every summer, but it was to go work in the fields in California,” he recalls. “There were six of us, and I owe a lot to my dad, a migrant farm worker, immigrant from Mexico.”

When he decided to make the film, Reyes says: “I wanted Pancho to be very naive about school and life like many low-income, minority students who attend college. The college experience is hard enough as it is, much less for somebody with fewer resources. But then that it is when the experience really becomes an adventure—lots of studying, working, poverty and partying. It’s very difficult adjusting to a unique way of life and making ends meet on a dime, or even a penny.”

Reyes says that all of the adventures in the film really happened to him or his friends while they were at the University of Arizona. To add authenticity to his tale, Reyes set the action of the movie in and around Tucson, and there were many shots around the University of Arizona, even though the college in the film is fictional. The dialogue among the characters is a blend of English and Spanish, “a healthy dash of Spanglish.”

Dr. Chuck Tatum, dean of the College of Humanities at the University of Arizona, plans to screen the film there in February. “Though the film is a comedy it has a serious side and with social critique about the difficulties of working-class and first-generation Hispanic students adapting and struggling in higher education,” says Dr. Tatum. “The film has appeal to both Hispanic students and non-Hispanic students. For the Hispanic student, it’s a bit of a mirror. They can identify with the characters. For non-Hispanic students, it gives them an insight into the college life of students different from themselves.”

Reyes, 42, works as a district director for Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, Democrat, in Southern Arizona, a job he has held for the past 12 years. “I’m a political beast by nature,” he says. “I became dismayed with minority images in Hollywood, particularly those of Chicanos, so I decided to make my own film.

 “My intent was to show the aspects of college life, the good and the bad. But if there is one important message I want audiences to get from this film, it is about the diversity within our own Chicano community. We are not all alike…we have disagreements, discussions, debates and [different] philosophies about life.”

So what’s next for Reyes and Pancho? Sequels, of course: Pancho Gets a Job; Pancho Goes to Law School; The Secret Life of Pancho Mitty; and Pancho Meets a Girl.

To order Pancho Goes to College, go to

–Clarence V. Reynolds

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