“The summer camps and afterschool programs we offer, while very helpful for the children, are meant to supplement the help that the children will get from their mentors, once they are matched,” Danielle Hernandez, the mentoring program coordinator, tells Laura Paskus of the NM Political report.
The children – many of whom don’t speak English – often arrive shy. Through the program, mentors have noticed a big shift in both curiosity about their natural surroundings and with each other.
Most of these kids are refugees, brand new to New Mexico. Adjusting to a big move is hard for any kid, especially if you don’t speak the language and the new home halfway across the planet. This program helps refugees and immigrants find a sense of place and community in their new landscape. Getting to interact with this new environment – bugs, plants, people – is thrilling for them. They learn, explore, and get to just be, well, kids.
Pixar’s latest film Coco follows the misadventures of a musically-inclined boy who gets stuck in the land of the dead during Mexico’s celebration of Dia de los Muertos. There, he meets his great-great-grandfather, a talented musician himself, and embarks on a journey of self-discovery amid colorful, Mexican holiday-themed imagery.
The film is a hit among critics and fans, and for good reason: it’s not just cleverly written and thoughtfully told, but culturally appropriate to boot. Coco portrays a culture that is authentic and nuanced, a collaboration by people of many backgrounds and talents.
One of the film’s directors, Lee Unkrich – a filmmaker from Cleveland, Ohio responsible for Toy Story 2 – knew he needed to acknowledge his own inescapable biases and cultural blind spots if Coco was to be a true success. He was worried Mexicans would find his ‘outsider’ portrayal of their culture unacceptable and realized this was a film that had to literally transcend borders.
“I’m not Latino myself, so I knew this was going to be a huge responsibility on my shoulders to tell this story authentically and respectfully. From the very beginning that was paramount,” Unkrich told NPR’s Latino Voices. “There was a lot of adjustment along the way when people would talk about their abuelas (…) And that slowly shaped the story and slowly brought it to this more truthful place.”
Unkrich asked for immense amounts of input from both cultural experts and friends, like Adrian Molina. Molina, a Mexican-American, wrote, unprompted, a scene for Unkrich to use in Coco. Unkrich was so impressed by the script that he brought Molina on as co-director.
“I couldn’t let this film not exist. I wanted so badly for it to happen,” Molina told Latino Voices.
The team left the confines of Pixar and traveled to rural areas outside of Oaxaca, spending days with families that became the inspiration for the film’s own family. They visited cobblers, mezcal distillers, mole chefs, and Papel Picado makers to understand their connections to family and Dia de los Muertos.
The film – like many who went to see it – is bilingual, dancing effortlessly between English and Spanish. And there are elements of Coco that anyone can identify with – family, life passions, and the care-free spirit of just being a kid.
“We’re just honored and grateful that we can bring something positive and hopeful into the world that can maybe do its own small part to dissolve and erode some of the barriers that there are between us,” Unkrich told the New York Times.
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