The First Time I Cried this Year

Danny DeBare - Ecuador


January 11, 2018

I just couldn't hold the tears back. My emotions just took the best of me; one could call it a culmination of a very touching journey. Ecuador finally found a way to crack me: abuelita Coco remembered her father.

Got you there! I think that's what the professionals call click bait.

By Coco, I'm not referencing some adorable stray dog that had a magical reunion with her mother. Because let's be real, nothing related to any sort of dog would make me cry. I entered this country impartial about these fun creatures. But after four months, they are the bane of my existence. Coco is the new movie Pixar released about Day of the Dead in Mexico, focusing on a boy following his passion for music against all odds.

This movie connected with me more than I expected: from the similarities in latinx culture I am immersed in this year, to the celebration of a culture that is belittled by the current President, and the heartwarming connections every Pixar movie executes exceptionally, this is a movie for the ages.

Pixar nailed it. The simplicity of the storyline allowed the viewer to focus on the spectacular details and colors in each scene. The beautiful fantasy world of the deceased, with hilarious parallels to city life, added a dimension that blurred the line between living and dead. Through the eyes of an energetic, lovable, and adventurous boy, Pixar challenged both my perception and treatment of my deceased loved ones, leading me to reflect on the similar lessons I’ve learned though my time in Ecuador.

Coco was my first lesson in discovering the subtleties between different latinx cultures. My friend McKenna said it best: Ecuador’s Dia de los Difuntos is the sober cousin to Dia de los Muertos in Mexico. But the intention, respecting and celebrating the dead, is the same. However, I never imagined what this holiday was like from the dead’s perspective. Maybe because I was just trying to fit in with my new host family, or was starving after the 6 a.m. mass, but I failed to see the bigger picture of Day of the Dead in Ecuador before this movie. Not surprisingly, The Abuelita character was spot on, a perfect combination of my Quito host Grandma and Cotacachi abuelita.  Piling on the food, piling on the compliments, and piling on the judgment; what more could you ask for? Also, in both Coco and Danny’s Ecuador Experience*, family acts as the center of the universe. Of course it wasn’t a question Miguel (the protagonist) would work in the shoe factory, just like how it isn’t a question if my 21 year-old sister can return home from university a day late to hang out with her friends after a long week: she can’t, family first.** What’s more, I watched the movie about a Mexican boy’s quest to play music in Spanish, and understood most of it. The language element added, in my eyes (or should I say ears), to the authenticity of Coco. I loved personally connecting to this movie, and have Ecuador to fully thank for that. But even without this added layer of empathy, American audiences opened their eyes to a new culture in a positive light.

Day of the Dead in Mexico, through American eyes, is often seen as a makeup artist’s heaven with beautifully painted skulls. I vividly remember the elementary school art project where we painted skulls, attempting to copy each flower, dot, and line. But that’s where my knowledge about this Mexican holiday, and authentic Mexican culture as a whole, stopped. In eighteen years of education, I failed to learn about the foreign country closest to my home that has such a huge impact on the fabric of California. Coco exhibited a Mexican narrative that didn’t center around a border wall and narcotics. These days, that’s all the American public hears about our neighbor to the South. Pixar changed the narrative, celebrating a beautiful country though utilizing the most powerful tool humans possess: empathy.

I cried for the uplifting ending. I cried for connecting so much with this new culture I am falling in love with. And, I cried for the sake of a good cry. It wouldn’t be a true gap year if I didn’t break down once. Who would have guessed a prepubescent boy’s journey to the afterlife would have triggered it?

*Movie to be realized in IMAX Spring of 2019.

**I try to remind her that she’s 21 years old and shouldn’t have to ask permission where she can spend the night. I guess families have different expectations for their children here.


Danny DeBare