by MarKaye Hassan
“This movie is about family.
This movie is about dreams.
This movie is about crossing borders.
This movie is about not being able to cross borders.
This movie is about traditions.
This movie is about the living and the dead.
This movie is about Mexico.”
– Luis Puente, American citizen. Born in Monterrey, Mexico.
I remember watching the trailer for Coco for the first time, the vibrant orange of the Aztec marigolds, the skilled strumming of the classical guitar, the way that the boy Miguel rolled his eyes at his film hero’s dramatic kiss. I was captivated by the color, the culture and the characters and I felt my heart surge with a love for the people of Mexico. I was grateful that this story was being told, and I wish it had been told years ago.
It’s hard for anyone to address the times when they have found themselves a part of a problematic or oppressive system, and I’m ashamed to say that it wasn’t until high school that I realized that there was a separation between me and the Spanish speakers at my school. Growing up in Utah, I had never stopped to think about it, never thought of it as racism, never questioned my social circles and who they included and who they didn’t, but the separation was undoubtedly there. I remember it being a shock when I first realized in a high school Government class that the illegal immigrants who were “taking our jobs” were sitting right next to me, and was even more ashamed when I noticed that very few of them were my friends. I realized then that I had been part of a problematic rhetoric, that I had been listening to the wrong people and alienating an entire race and culture as a result.
I believe in the power of telling stories, and I think a huge part of the problematic ideology that I had accidentally slipped into in my youth came from my lack of exposure to stories that celebrated Mexico. In fact, it came from an almost complete lack of Mexican stories at all. These were a stories that were around me every day, yet rarely had I seen them. These people were just as much my neighbors as anyone else, yet the number of figures on screens that I could say represented them were excruciatingly small.
The impact of representation on a culture and a people is massive, and as a country we have a long, long way to go. But Coco is a huge step in the right direction and I believe will help so many children to have an experience that is better than my own. It is fun and lovely, warm and inviting. It tells the story of bringing people together and it does bring people together. It is a “love letter to Mexico,” and an invitation to all of us to step outside of ourselves and love our neighbors.
American children need that. All children need that.
Coco’s co-director, Lee Unkrich, said it so well in his acceptance speech for the Oscar for “Best Animated Feature Film.” He said that “With Coco, we tried to take a step forward toward a world where all children can grow up seeing characters in movies that look and talk and live like they do. Marginalized people deserve to feel like they belong. Representation Matters.”
MarKaye Hassan is an undergraduate student studying Media Arts at Brigham Young University.