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What ‘Coco’ has taught me

Believe me, I get it. Here’s another piece on Coco! Has it been talked about numerous times since its release in 2017? Absolutely, but for good reason. Being Mexican-American myself, I was skeptical at first when Disney announced this film. I thought right away it would be a stereotypical Hispanic film that the majority of audiences would assume Hispanic culture is. However, “Coco” was a film that truly moved me emotionally. So, while this isn’t necessarily a recommendation, I would like to talk about what this film meant to me.

In case you haven’t seen it yet, “Coco” is a 2017 film directed by Adrian Molina and Lee Unkrich. The story is of Miguel Rivera, a young musician who crosses over to the Land of the Dead to find his purpose in life while connecting with his ancestors. The film is heavily influenced by the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos or also known as Day of the Dead. On this multi-day holiday, family and friends gather to pay respects and remember friends and family members who have died.

When I was little, I had very little care for Dia De Los Muertos. I was naive to the idea of death and why we spent a whole day remembering those who passed on, especially those that I wasn’t necessarily close to. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I understood the importance of this holiday, as well as remembering the dead in general.

I lost all my grandfathers in high school: my Papo (Robert Balleza) on my mother’s side, my grandfather (Raul Zarazua) and my step-grandfather (Lloyd Negrete) on my father’s side. It was hard to process. The role models of my childhood, the people I never thought would leave, are now gone. The idea of death hit me hard, and made me think about what would happen if I left now. How would I be remembered? Would I be remembered years down the line?

As I grew older, the thought wasn’t in my head 24/7, but still lingered, and appeared again when COVID-19 hit. The idea of death and not being remembered hit me like a truck. I never knew how to process these thoughts until my sophomore year, when we finally came back to campus.

I went to an event showing “Coco” and my feelings finally come together. While those we loved are no longer with us, they are never truly gone forever. Just because someone isn’t with you anymore, that doesn’t mean that the love you have for them has disappeared. Their lives have meaning because we, the living, refuse to forget them. When we pass on, we trust and hope those we love will do the same for us. 

“Coco” also shows the importance of passing on traditions and familial legacy. While Coco’s family has a strong hatred toward music, the family and audience learn the value of respecting previous generations and the knowledge our elders have accumulated. There are plenty of people who feel they have made grave mistakes in their life and wish they could take them back. However, the best thing a person can do is to teach the people they love to not make the same mistakes. While those who look up to us want to be just like us, we want them to be better than us so they can have better lives.

No one we love is ever truly gone, and we can continue to keep their legacy alive, remembering the times we had with them and continue to pass on their legacy.

Title: “Coco”

Directors: Adrian Molina, Lee Unkrich

Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal

Streaming: Disney+

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Contact Gabriel at gzarazua@nd.edu

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‘The Tsugua Diaries’: A pandemic-era masterpiece

 Admittedly, I found myself a watcher of pandemic escapism shows and movies, the most prominent example being “Emily in Paris.” Watching “The Tsuagua Diaries” illustrated just how a director can draw inspiration from something so unprecedented — the pandemic — and use it to create a masterpiece.

The movie beautifully explores Portuguese culture. The cinematography gives us a peek into the luscious landscape of the Portuguese countryside, from gorgeous garden scenery to consistent shots of over-ripe fruit. The soundscape was rich with 70s hits and the vibrant and musical Portuguese tongue. I found myself peeking into a culture that I hadn’t seen before for an hour and 42 minutes. Watching films outside of one’s culture allows us to see past the stereotypes that have been given to them.

The film simultaneously provides insight into Portuguese culture and rejects the format of standard American box-office movies. Our films follow a predictable formula, created by executives who cater to our interests. As a result, American cinematography is less than stellar in most cases. The quality of the film suffers.

“The Tsugua Diaries” showed that there are still movie-makers that focus on capturing a story rather than curating it to a mass market. This film is a breath of fresh air in contrast to what we are seeing in the mass market. They created a universe of a movie inside a movie that showed the reality of endemic era filming. The premise was Carloto (Carloto Cotta) decides to go surfing and unintentionally puts the production at risk.

It leads to the decision to construct a house for butterflies. The construction of the butterfly house is how the tensions between characters to come through. The behavior of Carloto is criticized throughout the movie arguably because of the choice he made.

One of the highlights of this on-screen dynamic is surprisingly humorous. Carloto is the flirting in the garden when his co-worker rudely interrupts him and calls him out for wearing socks. The two debate over the clear value of the socks with Carloto writing them off as not a big deal. This is hardly one of the first moments to come to mind when I think about humorous moments. The masterful use of little quips that almost fly over your head is something exceptionally well-done in this movie.

The last scene also provides an exceptional flashback to when they arrived on set and the discussion of the COVID protocols. The supervisor is wearing an N-95 mask and face shield but is wearing an outfit that looks like a garbage collector uniform. He gets into a heated argument over organizing breakfast for the crew. Someone failed to request the milk he wanted for breakfast. He questions everyone else and says that no one answered the email required for the order. It is revealed that everyone else responded except him. This scene deals with the realities of pandemic-era struggles but does so in a light-hearted way.

The highlight of the film was the fact that the characters went by their real names. The fact that the actors weren’t playing characters heightens the sense of realism and connection between the audience and the actors. The behind-the-scenes moments also added a layer of authenticity.

The spirit of Maureen Fazendeiro, writer of “The Tsugua Diaries,” was clearly shown in the film. We saw the inner workings of film production rather than the unreal depictions that are the norm in modern cinema. “The Tsugua Diaries” instills a feeling of love and admiration for the films that lean into real culture.       

Title: “The Tsugua Diaries”

Starring: Crista Alfaiate, Carloto Cotta, Joao Nunes Monteiro  

Directors: Maureen Fazendeiro, Miguel Gomes 

If you like: “La Strada”

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Contact Rose at randrowich01@saintmarys.edu

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Tri-Campus Thursday: ‘Latinx Heritage month’ events celebrate diversity within the community


Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 to celebrate the cultures of Americans whose ancestors hail from Mexico, the Caribbean, Spain and Central and South America.

In 1968, the country observed Hispanic Heritage Week and by 1988, the week was expanded to a 30-day period. The independence days of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico and Chile all fall in the first week of Hispanic Heritage month.

The Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame is hosting nine events to mark the month. Some of these events are more academic while others focus on highlighting influential Latinx alumni from the University. 

First-year student Angela Olvera attended professor Luis Fraga’s “Latinos and the Reshaping of American Politics” lecture last Thursday. 

“I’m from Texas, and Texas has the worst cases of voter suppression in the country and racial gerrymandering. Hearing about how the Latino population is close to 40% of the country, and yet only like 15% of us vote was interesting,” Olvera said. “It just goes to show how it’s an invisible demographic … the way professor Fraga talks so passionately about it makes me want to get out there and register everyone to vote.”

Olvera also attended the transformative Latina leadership lecture this past Monday with Dorene C. Dominguez, a Notre Dame alumna who is the CEO of Vanir, a construction management and real estate company.

“She talked a lot about impostor syndrome … because she was a first-generation student like I am … and I think it’s really important to just hear success stories about people who share your background and ethnicity,” Olvera said. “I love that they interviewed her … because there’s still so much machismo and sexism that goes on in the Latino community.”

The Institute for Latino Studies is also co-sponsoring events organized by other academic departments for example, the talk by California State senator Monique Limón last week and a lecture by Nathan Henne, an expert in Mayan culture, scheduled Oct. 10, which is Indigenous Peoples Day. 

One of these events is a discussion of the book “Crossing Waters” by Marisel Moreno, Rev. John A. O’Brien associate professor. The book talks about the dynamics of undocumented migration between the Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Puerto Rico.

Moreno, who teaches Latinx literature and culture in the department of Romance Languages and Literatures, says that the term “Hispanic Heritage Month” is problematic. “The label Hispanic was originally imposed by the U.S. government on a very heterogeneous population to refer to all people of Latin American backgrounds,” Moreno said. “Hispanic is derived from Hispania, which was a Roman region that coincides with what today is Spain. So [the term] Hispanic privileges European ancestry … and the Spanish language.”

Moreno emphasized the linguistic diversity of the Latinx community where people in Haiti speak French, Brazilians speak Portuguese and several other Latinx people speak indigenous languages. 

“I call it Latinx Heritage Month and even that label is problematic. This is inspired by the hashtag ‘Latinidad is Cancelled’ that comes from Afro and indigenous people who would be labeled Latinx but don’t see themselves represented in the … label, because it erases Blackness,” Moreno said. 

Nicholas Crookston, a senior who is co-president of the Latinx Student Alliance (LSA) will be moderating “Latinx Identidades” next Thursday, a panel to shed more light on the diversity within the community. 

“Students and faculty are going to share their stories and knowledge on the complexity … of what we mean by Latino, Latina [and] Latinx,” Crookston said. “We hope to discuss the nuances of all experiences within our community including Afro Latinos, LGBTQ+ Latinos and first generation Latinos.”

“The panel is important because it’ll build cultural proficiency and people’s ease and understanding using the term, so they don’t feel weird about it,” Paloma Garcia-Lopez, associate director of the Institute for Latino Studies said. “We spent a lot of time in the media talking about the undocumented or recent immigrants, which really make up 15% of all Latinos in the US, so 85% are U.S. born.”

The panel is designed for audiences who might not have a lot of experience in Latinx communities.

“We’re trying to help increase the understanding of Latino communities in the U.S. for everybody at Notre Dame … and share some basics about US history that aren’t taught in high school,” Garcia-Lopez said.

The Institute for Latino Studies also collaborates with the Hispanic Alumni of Notre Dame (HAND) for an event each year. 

Students who view the alumni presentations can make appointments for one on one mentorship with them.

“This is a way of exposing them to people who have done pretty creative things with their degrees … there’s boards to serve, community organizations to support and philanthropic efforts,” Garcia-Lopez said. 

At Saint Mary’s, Latinx Heritage month celebrations have largely been spearheaded by students. Jackie Junco, a senior who serves as president of La Fuerza, the College’s club for Latinx students, said that the club held a photo-op event where students could celebrate the diversity of the Latinx community by taking photos with different flags of Latin American and Caribbean countries. La Fuerza also hosted a karaoke night in honor of the month along with their regular volunteering in the west side of South Bend. 

“La Fuerza and our diversity clubs are … the main sources that help support students of color [at Saint Mary’s],” Junco said. “I think implementing some more institutional support and club funding is necessary.” 

In light of Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico, senior Ashlley Castillo, co-president of LSA at Notre Dame also talked about the need for more institutional support. 

“We know that there are other instances where the University has stepped up for other communities, and I feel like they’re not as responsive for the Latino community. Perhaps they can have a prayer service … at least or offer resources at the UCC to students from Puerto Rico who have had this traumatic experience before with Hurricane Maria a few years prior,” Castillo said. 

Moreno and Garcia-Lopez both cited hiring more Latinx faculty members as a first step to building a community that is more supportive of Latinx students. 

Crookston hopes that Latinx Heritage Month events on campus will help build more unity between students of all backgrounds.

“LSA events have always been open for all to attend,” he said. “We want this to be an invitation for the wider community to celebrate with us this month and year round.”