STAND AND DELIVER

Ramón Menéndez
USA 1988 | 104 Min. | 35 mm, OF
Q&A with:
Paul Espinosa

The drama­ti­za­tion of the life of an extreme­ly demand­ing maths teacher at an East LA school in a Chi­cano neigh­bour­hood: Thanks to his sever­i­ty the pupils pass the exams and can go to col­lege. The school author­i­ties ques­tion the results as they don’t cor­re­spond with the usual fail­ure fig­ures. A fight against prej­u­dice ensues. 

»STAND AND DELIVER recounts the efforts of Boli­vian-born Los Ange­les res­i­dent Jaime Escalante to teach Advances Place­ment (A.P.) cal­cu­lus to a pre­dom­i­nan­te­ly Chi­cano group of stu­dents at East Los Ange­les Garfield High School. Early in STAND AND DELIVER Jaime Escalante boosts his student’s con­fi­dence in their math abil­i­ties with a brief his­to­ry lesson: ‘Did you know’, he says, ‘ that nei­ther the Greeks nor the Romans were capa­ble of using the con­cept of zero? It was your ances­tors, the Mayas, who first con­tem­plat­ed the con­cept of zero, the absence of value. True story. You burros have math in your blood.’ A few scenes later he tells the same room full of stu­dents: ‘You already have two strikes against you. There are some people in this world who will assume that you know less than you do because of your name and your com­plex­ion. But math is the great equal­iz­er’. STAND AND DELIVER thus estab­lish­es a ten­sion between assim­i­la­tion and main­tain­ing an iden­ti­ty dis­tinct from dom­i­nant cul­ture. This ten­sion final­ly erupts into con­flict when the Edu­ca­tion­al Test­ing Ser­vice (ETS) sus­pects the stu­dents of cheat­ing. Fram­ing this sus­pi­cion as a fla­grant case of insti­tu­tion­al racism per­pe­trat­ed by ETS, the film’s nar­ra­tive illus­trates the dif­fi­cult rela­tion­ships between an ethnic minor­i­ty, in this case Chi­canos, and a system that serves the so-called white minority (…) 

STAND AND DELIVER empha­sizes the stu­dents’ and their teacher’s Latino her­itage. The school system sees this eth­nic­i­ty as an obsta­cle to learn­ing, an atti­tude epit­o­mized by the math depart­ment chair, Raquel Ortega. For Escalante, eth­nic­i­ty pro­vides an entrée into the stu­dents’ minds. By the end of the film, the stu­dents find strength in their Chi­cano iden­ti­ty and fight a system that would limit their oppor­tu­ni­ties because of that iden­ti­ty (…) Escalante hopes that A.P. cal­cu­lus will pre­pare his stu­dents to enter a system that typ­i­cal­ly excludes Chi­canos (…) In one of the first scenes Escalante enters a class­room full of chat­ting stu­dents. The chalk­board is dec­o­rat­ed with graf­fi­ti as are the bul­letin boards that sur­round the room. There are more stu­dents than chairs. Escalante dis­cov­ers that a number of his stu­dents speak no Eng­lish. Cur­tailed fund­ing, graf­fi­ti, and lan­guage bar­ri­ers sit­u­ate Garfield as a barrio school, trou­bled from within by gang prob­lems and van­dal­ism, for­sak­en from with­out by the larger public edu­ca­tion system. Escalante, the out­sider, emerges as the force that reopens the path between the barrio and the larger world and that reestab­lish­es com­mu­ni­ca­tions between the stu­dents and the fac­ul­ty. Escalante makes things happen because he is com­fort­able both in the barrio and in the system. The film high­lights his abil­i­ty to pass effort­less­ly between Chi­cano Los Ange­les and a mixed, middle-class Los Ange­les from the first moments. The title sequence begins with a full-screen image of moving water. As the camera pulls back the water appears to be a river and is final­ly revealed to be a duct in the middle of an urban area. A bridge cross­es the duct, con­nect­ing two neigh­bor­hoods by allow­ing travel between them. Fig­ur­ing Escalante’s border cross­ing, the next shot shows him dri­ving across the bridge, leav­ing down­town Los Ange­les. For the remain­der of the credit sequence, the camera alter­nates between shots of Escalante pass­ing through East Los Ange­les and the neigh­bor­hood that Escalante sees as he drives. Escalante’s view estab­lish­es the eth­nic­i­ty and socioe­co­nom­ic status of the neigh­bor­hood -ven­dors sell­ing fruit on the side of the road, call­ing out to cars in Span­ish; store and truck signs in Span­ish; Mari­achi musi­cians car­ry­ing theirs instru­ments down the streets (…) Escalante’s border cross­ing is subtle. The sig­nif­i­cant border in STAND AND DELIVER does not sep­a­rate two geopo­lit­i­cal enti­ties. Nor is it a tan­gi­ble phys­i­cal border. Rather, it is the divide between socioe­co­nom­ic class­es and ethnic groups. Most people, par­tic­u­lar­ly those on the priv­iledged side, avoid rec­og­niz­ing and dis­cus­siong this border. Racial and ethnic prej­u­dice and cul­tur­al dif­fer­ence com­pli­cate travel across the border. STAND AND DELIVER shows how these prob­lems are man­i­fest within the barrio as well as in the larger scheme (…)

Escalante gives his stu­dents the tools he believes they need to qual­i­fy to enter the system. He takes them on a field trip to con­nect the class­roon lessons to the real word. With this trip, Escalante escorts his stu­dents on their first border cross­ing (…) Border cross­ing rep­re­sents the ulti­mate achieve­ment – learn­ing to bal­ance one’s ethnic iden­ti­ty with the assi­m­il­i­a­tion requires to par­tic­i­pate in the larger system (…)« Excerpts from ‘Cross­ing Invis­i­ble Boders: Ramón Menéndez’s STAND AND DELIVER’, Ilene S. Gold­man in ‘The ethnic eye- Latino Media Arts’, 1996