I Carry You With Me (Te Llevo Conmigo) is Heidi Ewing’s narrative feature debut that details the true story of a romance between two men from Mexico who risk their lives to seek a better life together in New York City. This is an incredibly important film, especially because homophobia is still prevalent in Mexico. In a lot of ways, Mexico is more progessive than the United States with their acceptance of LGBTQ+ people as equal rights activism has been on the rise. However, despite its advances in civil liberties, there are still some factions in the country that have yet to adapt to these social changes due to the disapproval of the Catholic Church. I Carry You With Me asks the viewer to understand the hardships of the LGBTQ+ community who still cannot openly love who they want to love for the sake of survival and also humanizes undocumented immigrants who risk everything to come to the United States for the “American Dream.” Ewing weaves together a narrative past where the earlier, more complicated portion of their love story is portrayed by actors, and mixes this with what is later found out to be real-life documentary footage of the men themselves in present day.
The beginning of this film takes place in 1994 in Puebla City, Mexico, where Iván [Armando Espitia] struggles to make ends meet by working long shifts at a restaurant in order to support his son, but has bigger dreams of being a chef one day. He’s a gay man who has to hide his sexuality from everyone around him, especially his ex-wife, in fear that she will not let him see his son if she were to find out. The only person with whom he doesn’t have to hide his true self from is his childhood friend, Sandra [Michelle Rodríguez], who has always accepted and been supportive of who he is. Their friendship is established by showing touching flashbacks of the two of them as children.
Iván’s life changes when Sandra convinces him to go out with her to an underground gay bar. This is where Iván meets Gerardo [Christian Vázquez], a teacher from Chiapas, and the two seem to instantly connect. They share an evening together where they detail their experiences living as gay men in such a harsh society. From then on, this film chronicles their budding romance that must remain a secret as well as giving us more of an insight into what it was like for them growing up in a society with such prejudice. Flashbacks show pieces of both Iván and Gerardo’s tumultuous childhoods, where any suspicion of their sexuality from their parents was met with intolerance and abuse. The content of these scenes are hard to watch, as it forces viewers who may be blissfully unaware of the violence towards the LGBTQ+ community, to see what it is like for so many young children growing up in households that refuse to be accepting. As young adults, not much has changed for them. Iván and Gerardo’s relationship is tender and sweet when they are alone, but strained when they are out in public or around family as they have to remain secret.
Certain events unfold that make it almost impossible for Iván to remain in Mexico, coming to the conclusion that he must leave and cross the border into the United States. Hesitantly, Iván must leave Gerardo and his young son for the sake of a better life and so he can pursue his dream of becoming a chef. Iván parts with Gerardo, who does not wish to go, promising that he will only be gone for a year. Eventually, the two reunite and begin to build their lives together.
Although bits of documentary footage were sprinkled throughout the film, it is here that the film fully cuts to the documentary footage that Ewing took of the real Iván and Gerardo in the present day. The strengths of this film lie in the narrative first half, where the on-screen chemistry between Espitia and Vázquez as they play Iván and Gerardo is rapturous to watch. The documentary footage is inserted into the film so suddenly that it takes the viewer out of the film due to the drastic shift in tone. The film never truly recovers from this, and it loses its previous momentum, causing the ending to fall short. The weakness of the film does lie in the documentary latter half – it is not necessarily the fault of the footage itself, but perhaps the execution of putting the two together in a way that never coalesces. However, its latter half is still necessary, as this section of the film further drives home the fact that Iván and Gerardo’s story is real and that there are people just like them dealing with similar hardships every day. It is clear from the footage that Ewing truly cares about her subjects, and despite its issues, her care for the story shines through. I Carry You With Me is a powerful reminder of the challenges Latinx LGBTQ+ people have faced while living in Mexico, and a call for social change where they no longer have to choose displacement and national self-reinvention in order to live a life free of prejudice.
by Alysha Prasad
Alysha Prasad (she/her) is a freelance writer who is going to be pursuing her Master’s Degree in Film and Television at DePaul University in Chicago. Her favorite films include: Call Me By Your Name, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Before Sunset. You can find her on Twitter at @leeshprasad.