His Hollywood roles started with the television movie "The Time of Butterflies" with Mexican actress Salma Hayek in 2001 and include playing Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro in Steven Soderbergh's "Che" in 2008, in addition to the recurring role on "Weeds."
Bichir has said in previous interviews that he thought he was reading for director Chris Weitz's "Twilight" vampire series when Weitz proposed a project about a gardener.
"A Better Life" is the first major Hollywood studio treatment of the plight of illegal immigrants, though they have been in the employ of movie executives and stars for decades. Bichir has compared the film to "Philadelphia" as a work that could start to change attitudes toward illegal immigrants the way Tom Hank's Oscar-winning performance perceptions around homosexuality and AIDS.
Mexican migration to the U.S. has dropped by 83 percent since its peak in 2007, when an estimated 500,000 people went to the U.S., according to the Mexican census agency. Still, people in the U.S. and Mexico, including Bichir, are urging President Barack Obama to tackle immigration reform for the millions who already live there and, like Carlos Galindo, stay below the radar to survive.
Bichir says it will take more than one film to change attitudes about the community.
"We lost the first round at the box office. This film did not become a huge hit," Bichir said. "They need to make these types of films important and a success to talk about some real commitment."
Bichir has done what his more famous counterparts, such as Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna, haven't: win an Oscar nomination. Salma Hayek was nominated in 2003 for her role as Frida Kahlo.
The last male Mexican native to do so was Anthony Quinn, who was born in the border state of Chihuahua, though he grew up in the U.S. Quinn was nominated, for "Zorba the Greek" in 1964. He also won two best supporting actor awards for "Viva Zapata!" and "Lust for Life."
To have the same distinction as Quinn is "surreal," Bichir said.
"Everyone knows him, everyone loves him and he has always been a pride for Mexico," he said. "All I can say is that I wish I had that career, that at the end of my life I would have had at least a little bit of it ... and I hope it won't take another 48 years to have a Mexican nominated."
(This version CORRECTS spelling of Hayek)
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