Coco & Cultural Connections in the Classroom

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Written by Sylvia Denice

February 27th may have come and gone for you like any other Tuesday; but, for my classroom community, February 27th was one of the most highly anticipated days of our school year.  February 27, 2018 marked the DVD release of Coco, satiating anticipation of our long-awaited Lunch Bunch.

In preparation for the viewing experience, we discussed culture, particularly in relation to the film.  I pinpointed religion, music, art, relationships, and language as elements to be appreciated, celebrated, and explored.  We have shared several movies together over lunch as a class.  Never have I seen my nine-year-olds more enthralled than when I witnessed their first experience of Coco.  It was incredible: jaws dropped, eyes bugged, and not a peep was heard.  I had to actively, verbally remind them several times during each viewing session to eat their lunches before our lunchtime expired.  The film sold itself--they were immediately hooked, and they couldn’t get enough.

“It was a good experience for my eyes,” one student candidly expressed.  Other students agreed: the representation of Mexican culture through color was captivating.  “My favorite part was when the dog turned different colors,” another added, in reference to the scene of Dante transforming into an alebrije.  Within our reflective class discussion, one of three thematic elements was prevalent in each student’s response to the film’s impact on them personally: family, music, and connections.  I was amazed by the emotion and enthusiasm the film evoked in my students.  Not one of them left the experience without some sort of sentiment to share with our community.  Below are some highlights from students who made themselves vulnerable and shared their feelings that surfaced viewing the film.

Family

Two of my students are of Mexican descent, and they were among the most enthusiastic to get our Coco Lunch Bunch started.  One of them, in particular, asked me daily for two weeks how many days remained until the DVD release.  He had seen previews of the film but explained that he hadn’t been able to see the full movie yet.  Culturally, he is a minority in my classroom.  He was open about his excitement to share his culture with his classmates during our Coco Lunch Bunch.  A typically quiet student, Coco brought his voice loudly, proudly, and abundantly into our space.  We were delighted!  He eagerly and unpromptedly offered connections to scenes and cultural practices we viewed in the film.  At the end of the movie, he cried.  In his defense, at least half of us in the room cried.  My students saw and felt the value of family within the Mexican culture through experiencing the film with their classmates.  “I liked the part when Miguel was singing to his grandma.  That was sad,” the student explained.

“I loved how the family really wanted the picture to be up,” another student shared in connection to the Rivera family’s commitment to ensuring photos were displayed on the ofrenda so they could visit their relatives in the land of the living and celebrate Dia de los Muertos with them.  At this moment, I knew it had clicked: that unconditional, relentless love that I was immediately drawn to the first time I experienced the film.  What a beautiful cultural expression and takeaway, I thought.  Weeks later, our Coco experience still comes up in conversation regularly.  Just yesterday, a student asked me, “What is your favorite Coco song, Ms. Denice?  Mine is ‘Mi Familia.’”

Music

  

I posted a discussion page on our classroom’s online platform for students to share and respond to each other’s thoughts and feelings about Coco.  “What I liked from Coco was the songs,” one student forwardly shared.  Students posted clips of musical numbers from the movie, discussing instruments and the development of characters in correlation with the songs.  Not one song from the score was left unrepresented.  The variety of their favorites was expansive, and they were all eager to provide reasoning behind their song choices.  They discussed their favorite versions of different songs and connected the musical numbers to scenes from the film and the feelings they invoked.  One of our favorite lyrical lines from the film became: “This music is my language, and the world es mi familia.”

Connection

  

Through class discussions on our online platform, students are able to respond to questions or comments through words, images, and video clips.  At first, I was concerned when clips of Drake’s “God’s Plan” and “Pray for Me” with The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar came up in the conversation.  I was ready to challenge the posts as distractions from the discussion.  However, I decided instead to inquire further.  I responded to the posts with, “Tell me more about the connections you made between these songs and Coco.”  I was amazed by the readiness of the students to support their connections through citations from both the Coco film and the lyrics and messages of “God’s Plan” and “Pray for Me.”  They spoke of religion, particularly the emphasis of prayer in all three pieces.  They linked lyrics like “I only love. . . my momma, I’m sorry” to the strong familial love observed in the Coco film.  Before viewing the film, we discussed Coco as an opportunity to embrace and celebrate cultural differences while also recognizing relatability between elements that might appear unrelatable.  It was beautiful to see how organically this unfolded, as students connected their own diverse backgrounds to the Mexican cultural celebration that is Coco.

Coco gave our community the opportunity to discuss and celebrate culture, guiding vulnerable, enlightening, open-minded conversation in my classroom.  “Coco changed my thinking of the Mexican culture,” one student stated.  Another added, “It changed my thinking of how The Day of the Dead works.  Coco makes an amazing impression.”  Coco has the unique ability to challenge and reach people of all backgrounds and walks of life, and my students and I encourage all to join in this cinematic celebration.