At the Movies: Coco

“At The Movies: Coco”
Leviticus 19: 33-34; Mark 12:31
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
June 3, 2018

We are in our second week of a new sermon series entitled “At The Movies.” Movie theaters are the modern cathedrals. When movies are authentic, creative, and created from the deep wellspring of humanity, movies enable us to engage the Divine in rich and diverse ways. In this 8 week sermon series, we will be looking at movies in this last year, in particular, that I believe can move and inspire us to a deeper spirituality. Last week, Sue Wallace kicked off our sermon series with the movie, “The Darkest Hour.” Thank you, Sue, for sharing with us your heartfelt, moving personal stories of your father and WWII.

This morning we explore “Coco.” How many of you have seen Coco? The movie is important for many reasons. It portrays the Mexican culture and traditions in a positive and accurate light. It is a movie made for Latinx children and their families during a time when many immigrants feel under attack. (Do you know this word “Latinx”? Instead of using the traditional masculine Latino or the feminine Latina, the inclusive Latinx encompasses all gender identities. Thank you to Heather King for that education.) While the movie may center on the Day of the Dead, the hidden script addresses immigration and the immigrant experience. Ultimately, Coco is a love letter to immigrants.

Coco is perhaps the first film which accurately portrays the Mexican culture and tradition on the silver screen. Disney hired a plethora of Mexican consultants to advise them in the making of the film and every actor in the film is played by a Mexican-American. Thank you, Disney! In fact, Disney’s portrayal of the Mexican culture is so accurate that Coco is the largest grossing film of all time in Mexico! Coco strongly affirms the Mexican culture, especially around the traditions related to Dia de los Muertos. While many Euro-Americans living in Southern California may be familiar with the traditions associated with the Day of the Dead, there are many details of the story that most gringos, including myself, miss.

Here we have the ofrendas, the altars that are at the center of every Dia de los Muertos celebration. In this picture, we see photos of deceased loved ones, candles, skulls, and lots of marigolds. Do you know the significance of marigolds? It is believed that the spirits of the dead visit the living during the celebration. Marigolds guide the spirits to their altars using their vibrant colors and scent. Marigolds represent the fragility of life.

How many of us knew about Alebrijes? Animal spirits. Fantastical, colorful creatures made out of paper mache or carved from wood. The creators of the film decided to use alebrijes because of their vibrant colors, otherworldly nature, and their Mexican origins.

Dante, Miguel’s dog, was the perfect choice to serve as the boy’s guide into the underworld. Xolo, a Mexican hairless do breed, were believed by indigenous civilizations to be spiritual protectors. It is important to note that Xolo are not street dogs; they are highly valued. In Aztec mythology, Xolo were sacred entities with agency among the living and the land of the dead. So Dante transforms into an alejibre in the Land of the Dead, but then is seen as a normal dog in the land of the living.

Many Euro-Americans may be familiar with the spirit of Frida Kahlo, an internationally known real-life figure, but I imagine most Euro-Americans probably also missed the reference to El Santo, a famous wrestler who also became a popular movie star.  We also have Cantinflas, a beloved Mexican comedian. We don’t spot El Santo or Cantinflas, one of Mexico’s most beloved comedians, because we’ve never even heard of them, but Mexicans know who they are.

On this public servant’s desk, we see pan dulce. Mexican sweet bread crosses socioeconomic, geographical and cultural boundaries in Mexico. It is found in street markets, fancy restaurants, and even in Mexican neighborhoods across the United States. It is so common in the daily lives of Mexicans, yet many shared how shocked they were to see it in an American-made Pixar film.

Another charming detail of the movie is Mexico’s national soccer team jersey that one of Miguel’s living relatives wears throughout the film. The green Adidas garment is worn by Mexicans everywhere.

Yes, many Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were rooting for Coco because Coco rooted for them. And indeed, Coco won the Oscar for the Best Animated Feature Film in 2018.

While the film may center on the Day of the Dead, the hidden script is just as much about immigration and immigrant experience.

Miguel’s visit to the Land of the Dead is a migratory journey in and of itself. The young boy even has to pass through immigration and customs enforcement to enter the afterlife. On the way, he is exposed to border patrol agents who detain the “undocumented” dead who are attempting to illegally cross over into the land of the living. (This is a story that tells about) the land of those who are allowed to live and the land of those who are condemned to die (Barbara Sostaita).

(Show video clip entitled, “Anything to Declare.”)

The theme of migration is as old as the Scriptures. From the call of Abraham to the Exodus from Egypt, from Israel’s wandering in the desert to their experience of exile, from baby Jesus who was a refugee himself when he and his family fled political persecution and escape into Egypt.

We are all immigrants. Every president of the U.S, is an immigrant — from George Washington to Donald Trump.

Today there are more than 200 million people migrating around the world, or one out of every 35 people on the planet. Some 30-40 million of these are undocumented, 24 million are internally displaced and about 10 million are refugees (Website for the International Organization for Migration).

Why is it that so many cross through the desert in temperatures that reach 120 degrees in the shade risking heat stroke and poisonous snakes? Walking the trail that has taken the lives of thousands of immigrants? Why are they willing to take such risks and leave their home country? The reasons are diverse: natural disasters like floods, earthquakes, fires, climate change; political or armed violence, but above all, economic crisis. Many have said that the $3 – $5 a day they earn for a 12 hour work day in Mexico was not enough to put much more than beans and tortillas on the table. Potato chips have become a luxury that many could no longer afford. They could not stand to look their children in the eyes when they complained of hunger. Mario puts it this way, “We are migrating not because we want to but because we have to. My family at home depends on me. I’m already dead in Mexico, and getting to the U.S. gives us the hope of living, even though I may die.”

While I don’t often turn to Leviticus as a source of inspiration, what we heard this morning is one of the clearest statements in the Bible about extravagant welcome. Listen again:

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as a citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were once aliens in the land of Egypt.

There is no doubt that immigration is a complicated issue. But one thing remains clear we are to love our neighbor and to respect the dignity and humanity of every person. Calling such persons “animals” is dehumanizing and does not affirm the divine attributes that are a part of every human life. In the words of Daniel Groody, “From a Christian perspective, the true aliens are not those who lack political documentation but those who have so disconnected themselves from their neighbor in need that they fail to see in the eyes of the stranger a mirror of themselves, the image of Christ, and the call to human solidarity” (“Dying to Live: Theology, Migration, and the Human Journey).

This last Lenten season our congregation participated in a study entitled, “Welcoming our Immigrant Neighbor.”  Last month, the Board adopted the UCC resolution with a similar title, on becoming an “Immigrant Welcoming Congregation.” In essence, we are “encouraging the development of U.S. policy that facilitates the respectful welcome and inclusion of immigrants.” We, as a congregation, will be voting on adopting this resolution at our July congregational meeting.

The theme song from Coco is “Remember Me.” The words say, “Remember me, Though I have to say goodbye. Remember me, Don’t let it make you cry. For even if I’m far away I hold you in my heart, I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart.” This is the prayer of immigrants who leave their families and the country they love behind for the hope of living, though they may die – “Remember me.”

As we come to this communion table, a table where there are no walls, no borders and all are welcome, we hear the words “Remember me.” Jesus took bread…