Representing Culture - Disney's Coco

I was reminded of something this weekend when my kids and I watched Disneys Coco (for the 5th Time). Miguel and his family are set in Mexico, they eat, sleep, dress, speak in as authentic a way as Disney could produce. 

Some have even said that Coco is to Mexico what Black Panther is to the African diaspora lol.

The film centers around an extremely important Mexican celebration of Día de los Muertos : The day of the dead, literally.  
To many of my 'mummy friends' the concept is a little too grim and quite a few kept their kids away from this film which centers around “the multi-day holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, and help support their spiritual journey. ” 
In Mexico like most of African communities family extends beyond the nuclear, that is to say your parents and siblings. 
We have a multitude of 1st, 2nd, 3rd cousins, nieces aunties , grandparents, ...They are all active, present, overwhelmingly - family
That is one part of the Mexican culture that we share.

Miguel’s family is large, and they appear to all live and work together.. 
whenever we travel to our other homes in London, LA or Banjul our families come together, sometimes for giant sleep overs or parties till dawn..and my children who live in Sweden get to experience this over powering warmth. 
My best friends are my children’s mummies and their children my children’s siblings. This is how my kids see the world which is in no way unique. 
Different people and cultures all over the world share these customs, however we rarely see it represented in cultural mediums like books or movies.

The ancestors.
In our culture we don’t really have the same relationship to the dead and cemeteries as exists in the ‘west’.  
Our family members who have died, continue to watch over us and protect us. 
We visit cemeteries often to take flowers and offerings. 
We attend funerals with our parents from an early age too. 
The ancestors are part of our discussions, celebrations and prayers. 
They are not ghosts who come to scare or torment us. (We have evil spirits who do that instead:)) Ancestors leave us in a physical sense but we continue to have their pictures up and very often name our children after our parents and grandparents. 
I never met my great grandma whose name I have but I hear stories about her everywhere I go. Because I have her name, people will ask me , do you share her temperament too and laugh out loud sharing an anecdote or story they had shared with her.

In Coco, Miguel crosses over to the land of the dead and meets his ancestors. 
Because that mirrors our culture it was a much  easier conversation to have at home.
I recently lost my maternal grandparents and have explained to my daughter how they continue to live on in another place..
In her head, that other place now looks like what she saw in the film.😊😊 
My daughter has her grandmas name too.
Every time we watch Coco, Ella is curious to know which other family members she has that are in the other place. Family members she never met, but that mean so much to us..
I get to pass my memories on to the next generation who may continue to pass them on..
My mum was with us during movie night and she stayed the night. 

As I switched off the light at bedtime..I could hear her name grandma, my great grandma Lountandi.. on and on.. these great women before me, meeting my daughter through my mother’s memories..It is as it should be.

There are a million other beautiful moment's from in the film but that is truly my favorite.

By giving us characters within a culture, they took us away from sombrero hats and tacos or rather set the stereotype straight.

By giving us culture , we were able to learn about people a continent away and find so many similarities between us and them.

By giving us true narratives they fostered understanding. The next time any child sees a Día de los Muertos mask perhaps they will think of Miguel and his family adventures instead of ghosts and ghouls.

I live in hope.

In Sweden, the movement towards diverse books is younger than say the UK or US. 
We don't have this great advocacy engine steaming ahead. 
We do however, have smaller, constant , persistent, advocates and agents of change doing their bit.

In the last five years there has been visible efforts by some to address this by including more diverse characters in children's literature, especially in the 0-5yr old’s range.
This means that we can now find some books which aren't totally homogenous.
Although we have some diverse characters they are still often as secondary characters to the main story.
what I am truly missing  and looking forward to, is characters with and within culture.
Disney's Coco is a beautiful example of authentic storytelling.


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