Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
"Please, Virgin, don't let me leave this life without a trace that I was ever here."
Consuelo's prayer paraphrased for others like her the despair and hopelessness of abject poverty, a truth a benefit crowd led by President and Mrs. Carter heard Thursday night in the filmed version of a work by the late University of Illinois anthropologisy Oscar Lewis. He had learned the truth graphically during the five years he had lived among the poor in Mexico City.
The product of that experience became a best seller titled "The Children of Sanchez," acclaimed by critics, required student reading by many universities and reviled by Mexican nationalists.
Lewis said the poor belong to a subculture from which there is no escape, neither through jobs nor money. And he once defined 65 distinguishing traits endemic to that culture, ranging from multiple spouse, illegitimate children and "brittle" marriages.
Anthony Quinn, the actor, who read the book when it first came out 15 years ago, had longed to portray Sanchez on film.
In the mid-1960s, the conservative but highly prestigious Mexican Geographical and Statistical Society had demanded the Mexican government then in power ban the book's publication in Spanish. On the other side, in defense of author Lewis, were Mexican intellectuals. "The only thing wrong with the book," wrote one reviewer, "is it draws a painfully truthful and earthly picture of lust, cupidity and tragedy."
Efforts to film the book ran into trouble as well, and according to Quinn, the opportunity to do so didn't open up until the government of Lopez-Portillo came to power. "It was a political football up until then."
The result of that wait was on screen here Thursday, a benefit preview raising funds for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. On stage with Quinn were his film daughter, Consuelo, Venezuelan actress Lupita Ferrer, and producer Hal Bartlett.
Before the Carters or many of the 300 benefit-goers, who had paid $50 and $20 each, had arrived, Quinn stood almost unnoticed near the MacArthur Theater's stage, signing autographs and shaking hands with any extended him.
The film, he thought, would be "a proving ground that Americans are ready for Latin American subjects" at last. "Up to now there's never been a market for us."
One of the problems in preparing a picture like "Sanchez" was not knowing for certain if "the climate" was correct, whether "the theater is prepared for this kind of reality. It's a very realistic picture," Quinn said.
What he found particularly significant was that the film was being previewed in Washington. "It's because there are 30 million (Mexican-American) votes, and by 1982 there will be 40 million, maybe 50 million."
"If I know my people we'll double that," Quinn said, a line he apparently thought highly enough of to repeat later on stage.
When it ended, the Carters gave the film its first Washington raves. "I loved it," said Mrs. Carter. Carter was equally generous about the fund ("one of the greatest") and the work it is doing in human rights.
Later, at a reception in the Pan American Union, the fund's president and general counsel, Vilma Martinez, called the attendance by the Carters a shot in the arm that helped focus on the organization's efforts to show that "there are a lot of people who are concerned about the rights of other people."