The use of multiple languages in movies often involves negative stereotyping of characters belonging to a minority represented in those films. This is the case with some Hollywood films in which Spanish is associated with exotic or dangerous characters, confirming persistently the dominant position of the English language. In the documentary 389 Miles: Living the Border (2009) the linguistic and cultural impact of migration is seen from quite a different perspective. Whereas most of the documentaries dealing with the Mexican-American border are predominantly in English, possibly with Spanish subtitles, or mainly in Spanish with English subtitles, in 389 Miles both languages are used equally. The narrator tells the story in English, but he uses both languages in the interviews. There are also a few characters who switch from English to Spanish. The aim of this article is threefold: in a first instance, it seeks to examine the documentary with the use of some basic concepts of Polysystem Theory. The second objective is to explore language diversity. In a third instance, this article aims to shed more light on two powerful Mexican symbols: viz. the Virgin of Guadalupe and the wrestler mask. The final objective is to find out how bilingualism in documentaries changes our perception on other cultures, border crossing and migration.
Multilingualism; Polysystem Theory; Documentary; Cultural Transfer