Last night I finally got to see Coco with Rony after waiting what seemed like forever. Simply: it’s my new favorite Pixar film and it’s the perfect example of how I wish all cultures are treated in fiction.
(This may be a little jumbled, but my thoughts are scattered right now.)
A little background.
I’m a woman of color. My family has lived in the south pretty much forever, mainly Texas, so we’re pretty Hispanic. That being said, I didn’t grow up heavily in my culture. When we were babies, my parents moved away to Lubbock and away from the small town they grew up in. Charlotte is tiny and mainly consists of my family from both sides. It has one grocery store (that my grandparents started), one gas station, a library, and one main road. It’s a “driving through on your way to San Antonio” town.
Lubbock and Charlotte are very different. My life in Lubbock was always more modern where we played video games, went to the mall, ran around with our bikes, and watched TV on the weekends. In Charlotte, you can barely get cell phone reception.
During the summer, we’d visit my grandparents and my sister would work in their store and I’d walk down the dirt road to the library. My grandpa taught us how to catch Tarantulas for fun (you fill their hole with water until they pop up. I didn’t say it was a humane way) and we would eat Watermelons from his giant garden or run across the street to the snowcone stand my uncle started. There were always a ton of stray cats or chickens running around in the road and I would play with them all the time.
One of my most prominent memories was playing in the kiddie pool with my cousin and sister and my family skinning rabbits on the porch. The skin comes off entirely in tact so they looked deflated. For holidays, they would make menudo and barbacoa and I would walk into the kitchen and there’d be a giant, skinless cow head with it’s tongue sticking out. They would dare me to poke it’s big creepy eye.
But we didn’t really celebrate a lot of Mexican traditions. There wasn’t a Dia de los Muertos celebration (that I knew of) and even though my older relatives like my grandmother and some of my uncles and aunts knew Spanish, no one taught us. It felt like a divide between the old and the new. The kids only cared about their friends and new games. The older we got, the more the divide grew, especially with the kids from out of town.
I would visit as a teen and I would just sit with my laptop and edit videos and write stories. I didn’t interact much with anyone. My grandpa had passed away, who I was closest too, and my favorite Uncle that I would hang out with had moved away to be an air marshal. The disconnect grew.
I haven’t been back in years. The older I’ve gotten, the more I realize the loss of that culture. I’ve talked previously about being ashamed of being brown skin colored and how when I was younger I wanted to be lighter. That need to fit in, to be like everyone else had already started. I didn’t want to be Hispanic. I was stuck in between. I got called a “coconut” which is basically the equivalent to “Oreo” for African Americans. Basically it’s someone who doesn’t fit into the mold of how you should act. It’s a bullshit term but most people of color have heard it enough to know what it means.
Getting involved with comics and fiction and Feminism, I’ve fought for representation without realizing I’ve never really embraced my own culture. I wanted their to be Hispanic, African American, Muslim, Asian characters but I still felt like an outsider in the Hispanic community. So we started trying.
Rony’s been learning Spanish so he can talk to his Grandmother without a translator there. We’ve been trying to learn our family’s recipes and traditional food. When we lost family members and animals, we started celebrating Dia de los Meurtos to help us cope. I learned more about the women and figures in our history. I learned not to be hesitant about accepting my Latina roots and how I look.
When the trailer came out for Coco, we got excited. A major film was featuring our Hispanic culture with a Latin cast and actual Latin music AND it looked like they were actually going to be respectful. It was amazing. Then we started hearing the complaints. It’s a rip off of Book of Life, we already had a Day of the Dead movie, etc.
We saw Book of Life. I liked it, but it didn’t give me the same feeling Coco did and honestly, they’re COMPLETELY different. Rony and I discussed it on the way back home. Yes, they both have Day of the Dead settings, but complaining they’re too similar based on just that is like saying being moves are set during Christmas or Halloween then they’re all the same. Dia de los Muertos is a holiday. Why can’t we have more than one movie set during it?
This past October, we went to Disneyland and they turned the Plaza into a Coco themed area. They had a female mariachi band play along with dancers and they would sing songs from the film. The crowd was majority Latin of all different types. Young and old, it was amazing to see them all enjoy this at Disney of all places.
They even had an area where you could write messages to your loved ones or memories about them and hang them on a marigold chain. I was amazed at how respectful everything was of MY culture. Because it was mine. The whole area was beautiful and the food was amazing. I almost started crying because it was something I didn’t think I’d get to experience. Representation and acceptance.
When Rony saw Coco on Sunday with his family, he told me that sitting in front of him was an older Hispanic lady watching the movie by herself. She cheered and cried and sang along. There are a lot of jokes in Spanish and nods to the little things that almost all Latin families do. Tiny little things that make a character dimensional. He said that he would catch her crying and laughing and completely enraptured by the film.
We went the following day on a Monday night so the crowd was thin (because, you know, it’s a Monday night), but I could hear everyone’s enjoyment. The characters and family felt real and whole and not like stupid stereotypes. There was no Cholo or Chola or drunk uncle or sassy aunt causing drama. Their family was hardworking and together and despite the main conflict of them not allowing musicians in the family, they all supported one another and took care of each other. The importance of family was emphasized throughout the movie.
My great grandmother passed away last week. She held the family together and was strong, much like the women in the movie. My Grandma Romo, her daughter, is pretty similar to the abuelita in the film, but not as crazy strict. She’s strong and tough and fierce. I saw my family in these characters. I saw myself in Miguel. Different from the rest, but still loved. On a different path, but still having support.
The story takes you somewhere different than most. It’s about sacrifice and acceptance and dealing with the consequences of your actions. It doesn’t hold your hand through the cultural references, but also does a wonderful job of explaining certain things without seeming handfisted. The characters are multi-dimensional and complex. There are a few moments that are heartbreaking and some wonderful laughs.
It was also refreshing to see side characters actually willing to help rather than showing a cynical, “you’re on your own” world. In one scene, Miguel is in a competition because the winner gets to play at De La Cruz’ party. Stuff happens and he doesn’t get to accept or win but the actual winners are more than willing to help him later because they loved his music. They easily could have done the whole, “No, you lost, go away” situation and then have him like steal a costume but I like the direction they took. You help one another.
And as an artist, this film is gorgeous. It’s saturated in blue and oranges and color because that’s what the Day of the Dead is. It’s traditional to wear a ton of colors instead of black because you’re not mourning your loved ones but celebrating. You want to be happy and joyous and remember all the wonderful things about them and the memories. They talk about death and some dark subjects, but it’s never perceived that way. Death is just a part of the circle of things. We live and we die and it’s nothing to be sad about. The only sad thing is being forgotten.
They don’t dumb down our culture in this movie. The family loves each other even when they’re different and any disagreements are always showcased in a protective or loving way. The abuelitas in the film are strict, but loving. If you’ve ever been in a Latin household, you know that though the dad is looked up to, the families tend to be Matriarchal. My own families on both sides are run by amazing, strong women. I do wish it was explained a bit why they are as they are, but it’s a tiny tiny complaint.
The movie presents our culture in all it’s wonderful, gorgeous splendor and I’ve never been more appreciative of that. Coco is a marvel and a gift to Latin culture. The music is a love letter and the little details are icing on the cake. Please see this film. It’s a work of art and I could not stop crying at the end of it.
Also fun fact, the soundtrack has all the tracks in Spanish included on it. So you can bet your ass it’s playing on repeat in our house.
Rony and I are going to be working harder to embrace our cultures. A lot like Miguel, I ran away from it in search for my passions, but by choosing one or the other you’re always going to be missing something. You have to find the in between. I’m a Hispanic female artist from a family of strong women that’s full of love. It’s time I accepted and embraced that.
And you can bet that we’re going to be putting more love into our Day of the Dead alters next year and making sure our ancestors and loved ones are remembered properly.
Thank you, Disney and everyone involved in Coco. I’ve never been more happy with a film.
PS. I didn’t mind the Frozen short. Don’t murder me.