We were early for the movie. There were previews, too many of them and too loud, and then a very long "short" film featuring some of my daughters' favorite characters, after which they were ready to leave. But the movie we'd come to see hadn't even started yet, so we started whispering to them, cajoling, promising toys, offering candy. We stayed.
The two-year-old was bored, then frightened, then she fell asleep. The four-year-old said she wanted to leave and go to the playground. We stayed.
The movie meant something personal to me, but maybe not the way you'd think. The artwork reminded me of these single moments in my life, moments I will never get back. The train station ceiling, so reminiscent of the colorful Tiffany glass work in the Gran Hotel. The scrolled ironwork that spoke of the Palacio de Correos. The warm colors of the houses, like Guanajuato on a sunlit afternoon. The music and bustle of the square, so like Plaza Garibaldi.
These places are not mine. I was only a visitor, an outsider held in thrall to the beauty of a country that I know I can never experience as an insider. And the artists who made this movie, a lot of them were outsiders too. Many fault the company, perhaps rightly, for capitalizing on what has become one of America's most obvious cultural appropriations, even trying to trademark the name of a sacred and ancient holiday that has been imported, too often, as kitsch.
But my children saw it differently. They had a hard time at the theater, but they became obsessed with the movie. They wanted everything, the toys and the coloring books and the soundtrack. We listened to "Poco Loco" every time we got into the car. The two-year-old insisted, for months, that her name was Miguel.
My daughters are two of the 36% of kids in Denver who live with at least one immigrant parent. Their father and his family are here now, but their home is in Mexico. It was their father who showed me the beautiful things that I saw repeated in the movie, the things that made me cry. It was through my love for him that I fell in love with a country and a culture that is not my own.
For my kids, who hear two languages, who adore both sets of grandparents, who have an uncle and three tíos, the movie was simple: it was about them. It was about their father, their 'Lita and their Don. In the movie they saw the pan dulce they eat on Sundays at their grandmother's house. They heard the music their father plays when he cooks them chorizo and eggs in the morning. They saw a little boy who looks like them and bears the name of their father's brother. And they loved it.
My husband did not grow up celebrating Día de Muertos, but our house is covered in calaveras this month. We will eat pan de muertos and decorate sugar skulls. And this year, the girls want to make an ofrenda, like the one in the movie. They want to add pictures of their great-grandparents, their uncle who passed away, and their beloved pets. At bedtime, we read books like La Catrina and The Festival of Bones, and they imagine their lost loved ones are somewhere magical, somewhere incredibly beautiful and alive, that their loved ones will always visit them and remember them, as long as they themselves never forget.
To share this tradition with your family, check out these books and movies from the Denver Public Library.
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Thank you so much for your comment, Roxanna. I think a lot of people saw something in Miguel's family that they could relate to--the theater was full of laughing recognition, especially when Miguel's abuelita was on screen! I loved the way their family cared for Mamá Coco with such tenderness and respect. Definitely good lessons for our children.
Thank you for sharing this Amanda - it is beautifully expressed and reminds me to remember and acknowledge the sacredness of histories and traditions, from my family culture and beyond ~