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An Open Letter to Coco (2017); and How it Connects with My Own Journey of Finding and Honoring My Ancestors.

January 17, 2018

Dear Coco,

       I really enjoyed watching your story unfold the other night. You stirred something deep inside of me that made me ugly cry hard in a theater full of people; a cry so guttural and visceral that I had to excuse myself to the bathroom to get my shit together. I was speechless after seeing you and it took effort to process all of the emotions coursing through me afterwards. I deeply appreciate how you worked against my expectations while still confining yourself to the typical arc of an animated story of your type. Who knew that an animated movie about a boy grappling with his love for music in a family that despises it (because a great, great, great grandfather walked away from the family for a musician’s career) would actually be a reminder to honor our ancestors, respect our heritage, and appreciate our culture. Coco, you managed to be simple on the surface in order to outline more complex themes that are all too relevant in our society. You set your sights on reminding us of the harsh reality that families are broken up every day because of a lack of I.D. or policies made by isolated politicians who don’t see your story as plainly as you laid it out. You reminded us of border walls, of DACA, of parentless children who grow up with a warped sense of their heritage because an important piece of there life is missing or left behind. And yet, you still somehow spoke to me on an individual level.

       I’ll let you in on some personal insight, Coco: I just recently traced my DNA back to the mother land. Before Christmas, I took the DNA test and since receiving my results, I’ve called multiple family members to ask them about our family tree and any great, great grandparents that they may know. My father, mother, and great aunt provided me what they could but the tree doesn’t branch out beyond slavery just yet. Since childhood, when I first started asking where my family derives from more than two generations back, I’ve been met with uncertainty at the answer and admittance that my family just never thought to ask about those things before—no doubt the result of growing up in country ruled by white supremacy that often broke up the Black family and didn’t bother to keep records of early African American family history.

       But that hasn’t stopped the excitement that rises from each family member when they hear what I’ve learned during this process. Everyone seems giddy, anxious even, to discover members of the family we never knew about. There’s an innate desire to find the ancestors we didn’t know existed, or remember those we haven’t thought about in years. And Coco, you came at the right time to serve as a nice bookend to the pages I’m attempting to fill in about my heritage. I’m not going to lie to you Coco, I had some some issues with your storytelling methods and there’s a gaping plot hole that you practically fall through by the third act. There are also some existential, religious qualms I had, but this isn’t the time or place to discuss that because I recognize you are an animated film that just wanted to put your people and Mexican culture on your back. And you did a fantastic job of doing so. You were insightful, introspective, and beautiful to watch, and for that Coco I thank you.


The Cinephiliac


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