This post is essentially an off-shoot of my last post, about Hispanic representation in media. There I focused on how pop culture writers create Latin@ characters by coding with things like skin color, accents, names, et al, “defining” these identities by somewhat narrow parameters. I briefly mentioned how culture is an important part of Latino identity, not just superficial physical appearances, which leads me to this post—culture does not exist in a vacuum, it is by its very nature a fundamentally shared phenomenon. Sometimes the cultural unit is as small as a family (which can be as small as two people), but it can be as large as a whole community. Where are these communities on our screens?
¡Feliz Día de los Muertos! It’s November 2nd, known commonly in Christian liturgical calendars as All Souls’ Day, and frequently in Hispanic countries as Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) or Día de los Difuntos (Day of the Deceased). Festivals to honor the ancestors are a universal cultural phenomenon, but the expression of “Day of the Dead” in the popular imagination with its characteristic trappings is a confluence of folk Catholicism and pre-Christian Mesoamerican (Aztec in particular) indigenous traditions from parts of Mexico. The 2014 American film The Book of Life, which just opened a few weeks ago, is a rollicking romp set with this backdrop of Mexican Day of the Dead celebration, directed and co-written by Mexican animator and creator Jorge Gutiérrez. Though I am of a different Hispanic descent (Ecuadorian to be exact), I was excited to see a children’s movie celebrating any Latin American culture when the vast majority have backdrops of European folklore. I went in hoping for a lot, and left disappointed and offended.