Yareli Arizmendi was walking down the street in New York City on A Day Without Art two years ago when she had an idea–what if there were A Day Without Mexicans?

The Los Angeles-based actress and her husband, filmmaker Sergio Arau, discussed making a video based on the concept. But the project didn’t come together until this spring, when the Mexican Fine Art Center Museum in Chicago, where the two had appeared separately in the annual performing arts festival, gave them a deadline and funding for a camera and an editor. The pair spent two months working on the video, acting as directors, producers, and crew members. They also managed to get their friends–actors and nonactors alike–to donate their work.

The resulting 38-minute mockumentary, A Day Without a Mexican, contains a series of interviews and reenactments served up Unsolved Mysteries style with a Twilight Zone twist, using the premise that all of the Latinos in California have disappeared. There are vacant streets, closed businesses, and people wandering around wondering where their boss is.

“Everyone knows some Latin person who is close to them in their lives,” says Arizmendi, who costarred in Like Water for Chocolate. “It’s sort of like they’re everywhere, when you stop to think about what it means. In California a lot of people think, yeah, get them out of here. ‘Could the gangs leave, could the farm workers leave, but not my friend Gabriel?’ The whole idea was to personalize what a Latino is, as opposed to this big monster [California governor] Pete Wilson has managed to create.”

In the video, an advertising executive who recently launched a campaign aimed at the Latino market despairs that his audience is gone, then realizes he can use the crisis to talk his clients into holding a Disappearance Day sale. A heavy-metal band whose bass player disappears slowly realizes that although “the best bass player we ever had” hailed from Texas, he was of Mexican descent. Also among the missing are doctors, teachers, lawyers, and stockbrokers.

“The idea is very basic,” says Arizmendi. “You don’t realize what you have until it’s gone. And humor is a great way to talk about things.”

The world premiere of A Day Without a Mexican, which Arizmendi and Arau hope to make into a feature film, is at 7 this Friday at the Mexican Fine Art Center Museum, 1852 W. 19th Street. Admission is $10, $6 for members. Call 312-738-1503 for more information. –Cara Jepsen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Sergio Arau and Yareli Arizmendi by Debra DiPaolo.