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‘La Bamba’ Was The Best Movie Of The 80’s

Latinos are rarely the subject of triumphant Hollywood biopics. We’re not sure why. Maybe because it’s hard for Leonardo Di Caprio, Jamie Foxx, or Tom Hanks to pass as Latino? Either way, there are a few good films out there with historical Latino subjects. One of our favorites is the 1987 classic La Bamba.

La Bamba is the story of young Ricardo Valenzuela, later known to the world as Ritchie Valens. Ritchie works with his family picking fruit in California as a migrant farmer. But Ritchie has a dream. He’s a pretty good guitar player and starts playing at the local dances and bars. All along he has to deal with his drunk-ass brother Bob, played in all his scene-chomping glory by Esai Morales. Bob is jealous that Ritchie is going places in his life while he is a drunken loser with a soul patch. Ritchie is discovered by a producer, and he quickly becomes a big star. Ritchie then meets a cute white girl named Donna, but her parents don’t want her dating a homeboy. He, in turn, writes a classic song for her but her parents are unimpressed. What the hell do they want? Of course, we all know the tragic ending. While on tour, Ritchie got on a plane with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper that crashed in a snow storm. If you don’t cry while you watch this movie, you have no heart.

La Bamba was a huge hit. We remember watching it in school several times for some reason. We’re not sure what the lesson was. Don’t get on a plane with Buddy Holly in an ice storm? The film launched the career of Lou Diamond Phillips, who went on to play many Mexican parts even though he is Filipino, Hawaiian, Japanese, Cherokee, and Spanish. The soundtrack was also very popular. It brought East LA’s favorite roots rock band Los Lobos to national attention. Los Lobos sang all of Ritchie’s songs in the movie, because apparently Lou can’t sing for crap. This film made sure that the song La Bamba would be played at every quinceñera and baseball game for the rest of time.

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