Coco in the Classroom: How the “Best Animated Motion Picture” of the Year Deepened my Appreciation for the Cultures of My Students

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Written by Sylvia Denice

Award shows are my guilty pleasure.  From the stunning outfits to the humorous monologues to the moving acceptance speeches, I am a sucker for a night on the red carpet.  Admittedly, nothing I have ever loved about award shows has related directly to the awards; that is, until the Golden Globe Awards of 2018.  This year, I uncharacteristically watched in anticipation of one particular award: Best Animated Motion Picture.

I saw Coco in theaters not once but twice.  I couldn’t resist--I was so moved by the representation of Mexican culture in the film.  Coco is the story of a young boy (Miguel) celebrating Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) with his family in Mexico.  Miguel finds himself on a lively adventure through The Land of the Dead, searching for the truth behind his estranged great-great grandfather.  His journey is rich with culture: music, color, dance, art, religion, language, and even cuisine.  Disney/Pixar’s depiction of the Dia de los Muertos tradition gave me a whole new appreciation for the beauty of the culture celebrated by my Mexican friends, colleagues, and students.

I quickly latched onto the realization that my class is not just comprised of 23 individuals eager to hear my sage instruction on writing in response to reading or fractions.  Rather, each of my students is representative of a family and a culture to be embraced and celebrated within my classroom.

The value of unconditional familial love in Mexican culture is fantastically prevalent in Coco.  In honoring loved ones on the ofrenda each Dia de los Muertos, Miguel realizes the celebration that is family.  Miguel is not just one young boy celebrating The Day of the Dead, but rather an extension of his relentlessly loving grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who came before him.

The cultural lens of Coco provided me with a newfound appreciation for each of my students as not just the people who fill the chairs in my classroom, but as critical members of their beautiful families and brilliant cultures.  I am eager for an opportunity to share the film with my students as they continue to grow in their knowledge of and appreciation for diversity and culture.  It is a privilege to work with my students not just as the individuals who walk directly through my door each day, but also as extensions of their loved ones, values, and traditions.  I am grateful to the film Coco for deepening my appreciation of this great privilege and would recommend that anyone see the film at least once--or even twice.