When I first went to the see the film Coco, I made sure to take my niece. I wanted her to have the experience of seeing our culture reflected on the big screen. The funny thing is, I ended up being the one in tears at the end of the film.
To see things that were familiar to me, the music, the clothes, the food…not as a side item, or the butt of a joke, but as the main attraction and done not with ridicule, but with pride; I cannot explain the surge of joy and pride that filled my heart in the first 5 minutes.
There was so much more to that film than I had even realized. The entire movie has an undertone theme of “crossing.” The central character Miguel accidentally crosses to the other side, some ancestors are denied access at the toll and are unable to cross. It was hard to miss that undertone, that even in our death, we will be subject to “declaration,” “pathway,” and “crossing.”
Then there was the beauty of memory. I think that was my biggest take away from the film.
I remember crying when the one guitar player disappeared because no one “remembered” him anymore. By the time we reach the end (spoiler alert) and ‘Mama Coco’ dies, I was an emotional mess, she remembered her father’s song and thus he lives on, she lives on, in the memory. I remember immediately thinking of my loves one, just in case.
Watching the movie was an experience, within the experience. I couldn’t fully focus at first because, like a child at Disney, I was in awe, the music, the colors; the fact that is was an all-Latino cast meant familiar speech, the rhythm in which the family spoke to each other…all of it, was home.
In this weird time of a post-election Trump’s America, as a Mexican-American, I am exhausted. Since the presidential campaign, I walk around not sure of who I will encounter. Speaking Spanish, being proud of my Mexican culture and identity can now be seen as an act of rebellion, but for many of us, it just simply “is” – it is just being.
Watching the Oscars last night at the moment that live performance with Gael García Bernal sang “Remember Me” the theme song from Coco, I felt the same lump in my throat and the tears begin to well up. This is the first time (in my life) I can remember seeing images of Mexico displayed in honor of a nomination at the Oscars.
Again it was filled with beauty and sophistication, the dancers in ‘Traje de Charro’ and traditional “Ballet Folklórico” attire. This is the Mexico that I think of when I think of Mexico.
Although we still have miles to go with equal representation in media; I think many of us had tears throughout the night. To hear the young actor, Anthony Gonzalez (who voiced the main character ‘Miguel’) hold an Oscar, give his speech in English and say “Viva Mexico!” filled my heart with pride.
Guillermo del Toro brought the win for ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Picture’ making it the 4th year – of the last five years – a Mexican director takes home the top honors (with the exception of 2017). Alfonso Cuarón began the legacy winning ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Film Editing’ in 2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu took ‘Best Director’ / ‘Best Picture in 2015 and another ‘Best Director’ in 2016.
Plenty of A-lister Latinos made appearances, Gina Rodriguez, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Benjamin Bratt, Salma Hayek…to name a few. The tribute to “unsung heroes” performed by Common and Andra Day, included activist/icon, Dolores Huerta and international celebrity Chef, José Andrés – who most recently flew to Puerto Rico to aid in the rescue efforts, providing millions of meals to the island – were among those that were honored.
Throughout the entire show every time I heard The Shape of Water or Coco get an award or mentioned in a category, I was at home screaming HECK YEAH! Judging from my social media feeds, I wasn’t the only one. It was a beautiful night of pride and victory.
For many of us, Oscar night was about so much more. It was about breaking stereotypes and finally having some visibility and recognition. It was about freely embracing our identity, about unity and inclusion rather than exclusion.
It is about saying to the world – and the man sitting in the White House – we are not all “rapist and criminals.”
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