We aren’t Black Friday shoppers in my family. My mom is generally already done with her Christmas shopping by that point; I’m not ready to start mine; and none of us like crowds. We often venture out to the movie theater though instead. This year, we made an excellent movie choice in Coco.
I haven’t missed many Pixar films. I didn’t see any of the Cars movies or The Good Dinosaur, but I think I’ve seen everything else. At this point, it’s almost freakish how consistently fantastic their productions are. Every time, so sweet and heartwarming, without reaching saccharine… It seems like they’ll have to bomb eventually, right? But not yet. I can’t recommend Coco highly enough. Beautiful story, beautiful visuals, beautiful music. Despite some controversy during production, Pixar righted their course, and the final product exceeded all my expectations.
But I have to confess something.
Going into the movie, my inner monologue sounded a little something like this: Another Day of the Dead film, hmm… I hope it’s not just another Book of Life. I mean, that movie was good, but do we need another one already? Is Día de los Muertos going to be another movie trend? Like in 2006, when it seemed like all the movies were about magicians or penguins? Or in 1998, when we had competing animated movies about bugs? Or the last 15ish years, when every other movie is about comic book characters?
And then I caught myself. Day of the Dead as a trendy topic, like penguins or bugs? Like there isn’t room in American cinema for two Day of the Dead movies? What on earth is wrong with me? I never think, “What, another one? I hope it’s not like the others…” when a new Christmas movie comes out. I expect there to be a constantly replenishing supply of Christmas movies, and Halloween ones too. Why did I approach this holiday differently? Like a fad with an expiration date, instead of a natural setting for an infinite number of stories to be told?
Why? Because ethnocentrism. Because implicit bias. Because white privilege/supremacy. Because I’ve been conditioned all my life to see my white American cultural practices as the norm, and everything else a deviation from that norm. I’ve been conditioned to expect my own culture to be woven throughout the entire fabric of society, and everyone else’s culture to hang out over there in the diversity corner.
I could argue with these self-deprecating thoughts. The argument might sound something like this: What? No! That’s not what I meant. Stop making a big deal out of little things. I’m a good person! The least racist person you’ll ever meet! I have friends from lots of races, and they’ll all vouch for me! I love Latino culture and people. I loved Día de los Muertos before Disney told me it was cool. I’m an ESL teacher! How could I possibly be racist?
But you know what? That’s not what a good person does. A good person doesn’t resort to the “but I’m a good person” argument, making it all about them. (And they definitely don’t use their friends of color to prop themselves up. That’s just a gross way to treat a friendship.)
It also doesn’t do any good to bury one’s head in self-flagellation.
So, I let myself sit uncomfortably with my own offensive thought for a moment. I acknowledge that it was there, and that despite all my good intentions, I’m a product of my culture, just like the rest of us. I’m not immune to societal programming. That thought was created by a system that’s much bigger than me, and while I’m not responsible for the larger forces that created it, I am responsible for how I handle it. I can’t bury it, pretending it didn’t matter or even exist, without examining it first. I wonder what other thoughts have slipped through my mind without my filtering system even picking them up. I wonder how these subconscious thoughts and biases might come out in my actions and words. I regret the thought, and apologize silently to the universe. And I recommit to do better.
I come from a dominant, oppressive culture. I don’t want to be a dominant, oppressive person, and I want to be part of positive change in my culture. So I have to catch myself in these moments, even in the small things. I have to recommit to be better. I have to recommit to being the person that I want to be. I have to acknowledge the world as it is, and work towards the world that I want.
(Day of the Dead originated with cultures that have been on the American continent for much longer than Europeans. They were here first. And the United States is only beautiful when we value all of our parts. That very much includes our Latino population. So, no, it’s not acceptable to act like a Mexican holiday is a trend to please the whims of the white masses. Just to be clear!)