Imagine living your life in poverty. Imagine being controlled and humiliated by the military. Imagine not having any say in what happens. Imagine the pain and struggles of growing up in a third world country. The movie, El Norte, describes the struggles that people face in a tiny highland Mayan village in Guatemala. .
The movie is told in three parts. In part one, Enrique and Rosa, two Guatemalan siblings, flee their homeland after their father is murdered and their mother vanishes, both at the hands of the ruling military regime. Remembering all of the great stories told about "El Norte" from their godmother and knowing that their lives are in danger, they decide to make their way to the supposed Promised Land in the United States. .
In part two, Enrique and Rosa travel through Mexico in search of a "coyote" to guide them to the North. In Tijuana, they meet a guy who says that he will help them get into the States. While they move through the night, the guide tries to rob them for twenty dollars. After all of the commotion, Enrique and Rosa are picked up by the police and brought into custody. They are interrogated, but Enrique convinces the police that him and his sister is Mexican so they are released. A short time later, they find a "coyote" that promises them that he would help them get to the United States. Rather than taking the riskier mountain route, the "coyote" suggests taking an abandoned sewer tunnel. Enrique and Rosa decide to take that route, but on their way, they are attacked and bitten by rats. However, after crawling on their hands and knees for a long time, they cross to San Diego. .
In part three, Enrique and Rosa rent a sleazy room in Los Angeles from a Mexican-American entrepreneur. Here they are shown the amenities that their godmother had once told them about - electricity, running water, a refrigerator, and a flush toilet. In no time, Rosa gets a job ironing clothing in a factory and Enrique becomes a waiter in a restaurant.