Cowboy del Amor: Michele Ohayon’s Docu–Matching White Males to Mexican Female

Michele Ohayon’s documentary Cowboy del Amor, about a matchmaker of white American men to Mexican women, is a bold feel-good movie that overcomes a number of obstacles.

Taking on a topic that high-minded liberals and flag-toting conservatives alike would find offensive, Ohayon refuses to pass judgment on her subjects but instead quietly stands back and hears them out. What results is a movie that is at once insightful and light-hearted, humorous and sincere.

Ivan Thompson is an aging cowboy who starts a marriage service for men like himself who find American women too hard to please. After placing a Wife Wanted ad in Mexico and getting 80 responses in a matter of days, Ivan decides that finding Mexican brides for American men could be a good business prospect. He reasons that with so few eligible bachelors on the market in their own country, Mexican women would be interested in getting hitched to an American man.

Docu’s centerpiece is a relatively attractive middle-aged trucker, who files a request for a woman who is 20-35, attractive, less than 130 pounds. Rick is not completely shallow; he wants to meet someone and have that love at first sight feeling. One of the movies rewards is watching Rick and Francis, the woman he chooses as a potential wife, gain a better understanding of one another. It is tempting to write off Rick as a jerk when he stands up a date or rejects a woman because she isnt thin enough, but through his sensitivity toward Francis and his candid interviews he emerges as a likeable, multi-dimensional character.

While watching the film, a startling thing happens. The men start to grow on us, and pretty soon were rooting for them to find happiness. Rather than assign positions for her subjects on the battlefield of cultural ideologies, Ohayon allows the men and women in her movie to speak for themselves. At times, they are in agreement and at other times their belief systems clash, though not always in expected ways.

We find out that Ivan left his wife (the bride he found in Mexico, divorced and remarried) not because she refused to assimilate into American culture but because she became too Americanized, in other words too independent.

For all his outdated notions of gender roles, Ivan at least cant be accused of jingoism. He demonstrates a genuine respect for Mexican culture, learning the language and showing a personal interest in the people beyond making business transactions. He despises the power imbalance in U.S./Mexico relations. As he stands before a statue of Pancho Villo, he discusses how Villos troops were wiped out by the United States superior technology, a part of U.S. history that Ivan finds painful to read.

For Ivan, the crass commercialism and the dog-eat-dog mentality of U.S. culture is a threat to his own way of life as well. He turns to the woman business, because he can no longer make a living as a rancher, and now faces heavy competition from the Internet, which offers hundreds of identical services.

Ivan connects with Mexico partly out of nostalgia, seeing the country as a return to traditional values where people look at age with respect rather than as a bad disease. The barren, solitary town in New Mexico where Ivan raises horses and the crowded, colorful streets of Mexico thus share more than surface similarities.

Some of the men and women that Ivan brings together prove compatible despite their different backgrounds. The women belong to tightly-knit families but lack opportunity, while the men are financially stable but lonely. Ohayon does not favor one lifestyle over another, but she does show how a communal lifestyle can be both fulfilling and restrictive for these women.

The most troubling aspect of Cowboy del Amor is the comments made by the women about Mexican men being inadequate as husbands. While its brave of the filmmakers to suggest that such un-PC viewpoints might have an element of truth, they need to explore the reasons behind these viewpoints and offer possible alternatives besides marrying American men.

The movie at least gives the women full agency and presents them as independent and successful. Veronica, for example, is a dermatologist who doesnt see marriage as a means to an end. We follow them through their daily routines, which exist outside of their search for a husband.

Ivans perspective doesnt cover quite as much range as the filmmakers. Ever the pragmatist, he compares the woman business to the horse business in that to present a woman good the same as I am selling a horse, I have to be enthused about them and pleased with them and like them.

On its own, this comment would set off the red-alert in feminist readings as a blatant case of objectification. However, because we have grown to understand and care about Ivan we see that coming from him, this is the highest possible compliment.

Written by Kate Findley