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The Day of The Dead and the Animated Film Coco

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The Day of the Dead, known as el Día de los Muertos, is a traditional and indigenous celebration that originated from pre-Hispanic times and celebrated for over thousands of years. It is a very lively and vibrant holiday that is commemorated all over the world, specifically in Mexico and Latin American nations. However, this holiday is most concentrated in Mexico, where the tradition originated. Festivities are packed with decorations, food, drinks, offerings, and delight. Family members welcome the souls of their past loved ones, who return every year to enjoy the pleasures they once knew in life. Famous production companies, Walt Disney and Pixar, came together to create the famous animated film “Coco” that accurately depicts the Day of the Dead holiday. Coco emphasizes the importance of family and its true essence while it also served as a soothing tonic to the Latino community in a time of hostility. It set a wonderful example to its consumers, which are mainly in the age group of children, to become stronger and mindful. Lastly, the el Día de los Muertos holiday has been utilized in classrooms across various social institutions to encourage a better understanding of the tradition. Influences from different cultures and societies flourish through the festivities during the first and second days of November annually as families happily unite with their dearly departed who have crossed into the spirit world.

Regardless of what family might mean for someone, one thing for certain is that family shapes us. Our family members are our first introduction to the world and with the world. They can be an essential part of our lives. A core principle presented in the film is that “…your family is at the center of your life, it offers security and a basis for development” (Faro 2018:215). Coco signifies the importance of this value and how it completes our identity. Even though some might have their differences, nothing can be more important. Abuelita, the grandmother of the main character Miguel, told him “Being a part of this family means you are here for this family” (Coco, 2017). To be there for your family also means to be there for your ancestors – who are still a part of your family. This is where the el Día de los Muertos tradition becomes linked with this value. This is a time where you make ofrendas (decorated alters) to honor dead family members by putting up valued photographs, favorite foods and any other objects that symbolize that member (Faro 2018:215). You share memories and stories about the deceased to keep them alive in the land of the dead. It is believed that it is critically important to stay connected, in doing so you are keeping the memories alive rather than forgetting about that particular family member (Faro 2018:215). Family can provide unconditional love and understanding, it is a basic necessity that we may take for granted. They can give us the foundation upon which we build ourselves and be considered an extension of us.

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Setting an example for your children while they are young can mold them into becoming a benevolent and intellectual human being in their future. Children are influenced by their parents, siblings, teachers, and a lot of the time – media. Kids make up most of the percentile in consumers for animated films. Coco is a classic example of a film that encourages kids to be the best version of themselves. By watching and understanding the themes and messages through the film they “…not only learn that they can persevere through their difficulties, but that they can also affect a positive change in the world through their own efforts” (Emerson 2019:261-268). Coco sets a magnificent and mythical example for the children of today, who may well turn into the heroes of tomorrow. The film gives valuable meaning to kids “…through their own actions they come through to the end of their adventures changed and matured, bearing boons for their family, community, and/or world” (Emerson 2019:261-268). Watching Miguel overcome hardships and establish a better relationship with his family could instill growth, inspiration, and love within children.

Learning about different traditions and history in diverse cultures can promote a wider perspective. El Día de los Muertos has encouraged teachers and professors across various educational institutions to incorporate classroom activities and projects based on this holiday. Knowledge is key, learning about different ethnic backgrounds can open our minds to be more understanding and give us a better sense of sympathy. Teachers have borrowed books on this topic and have utilized them in their classrooms as “part of a culturally competent and response curriculum to enhance their students’ cultural literacy and affirm their students’ diverse local and global experiences” (Markello, Carrie, & Bean 2005:41-43). By participating in discussions, students can be encouraged to explore the Day of the Dead to heighten their understanding of the tradition. By understanding the traditions, they can then be able to examine the difference between the American tradition of Halloween and the Mexican commemoration of Day of the Dead (Markello, Carrie, & Bean 2005:41-43). By understanding the differences and similarities between cultures we can learn how humanity has been shaped by different resources, landscapes, experiences, challenges, and discoveries. Additionally, it may aid in breaking down our barriers and stereotypical views. Without knowledge, we may not be able to reach an age of abundance, progress, and prosperity.

Films have become a political source to battle inequality and hostility. They can provide a sense of comfort and healing. Watching a movie can occupy our senses more than any other art, especially if you’re viewing it in a theatre. It can shape our perceptions of different aspects of life such as love, society, and marriage. Coco is one of the many films produced by Disney that promotes the Good Neighbor Policy 6 administered by Roosevelt. “Using film as a policy vehicle, Roosevelt was keen on combatting “Nazi influence” and the threat of this infiltration in Latin America” (Castro 2018:33-38). Roosevelt’s priority was to reach out to society and invite them to diminish their negative stereotypes of Latin Americans as being lazy, suspicious, and uncivilized (Castro 2018:33-38). In the modern-day, Coco has brought on that same encouragement and shield to the Latin American community. Our president is attempting to build a wall between Mexico and the states, as well as to rescind the American immigration policy – DACA. These behaviors have made the Latinos feel disrespected, insulted, and attacked. However, the positive image of the Hispanic culture that Coco has portrayed, has given hope and comfort. It has given Mexican Americans the ability to feel empowered and proud at a time where they were being knocked down. Coco has had the power to demonstrate that “…generations of Latinx will continue to vocally praise and thoughtfully examine the intentional portrayals of our culture that are yet to come” (Castro 2018:33-38).

Today, many people that celebrate the ritual visit the graveyards where their loved ones are resting in peace. They honor them with decorations and offerings while enjoying the time spent with the visiting souls. Some individuals believe that souls visit their resting place first, therefore paths of flowers are also placed from the gravesite to their homes to help guide the souls back home to their families. Walt Disney and Pixar’s Coco has taught us how precious it may be to learn about the traditions and values of other cultures. It is a beautiful and heartwarming film that has filled many with valuable knowledge, love, peace.

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