By Andy Porras
Movie producer Guillermo del Toro told a reporter that when his movie, The Book of Life (BOL) was viewed by a host of Hispanic children in Los Angeles, one of the kids came to him and said, “Thanks for making us cool!”
The animated comedy, in reality, is a Chicano/Latino 101 mini course for gringolandia with respect to Dia de Los Muertos.
Those less fortunate, culturally deprived folks (including many Chicano/ Latino Americans) will instantly be encouraged to celebrate part of their ancestral past while keeping an ever vigil eye to their future. What La Bamba and Selena flicks did to past generations, BOL will do to our current flock of Razita.
It may spiritually simulate their curiosity to seek knowledge of life in the New World before the Spanish and Portuguese colonized most of the Americas through Catholicism. They might be interested in our Indigenous people and how they celebrated and honored their own native religions.
According to del Toro, Book is a story about family and following your heart. Remind you of somebody you know? Someone like your grandfather, father or yourself, right?
Remember that the ancient religions of our ancestors maintained a connection with their dead – hence you still see today many tombs across the land where living relatives of the dead person have left food and other offerings to honor the dead and keep their spirit content.
This ‘ancestor worship’ was very important to civilizations like those of the Aztecs, Mayans, Incas and others. Most of us learned early in our lives that we were not to confuse popular ghost stories centered on the night before the day of the dead much like the Halloween tradition of Europe and North America. I can still recall our Nana lecturing us that Día de Los Muertos was not a Hispanic Halloween. Ironically, most of the Book PR before it opened, begin by stating, “This Halloween . . .” – something that probably validated the idea of a Hispanic Halloween really taking place. Tsk, tsk.
“Our dead don’t scare people,” she’d say. “In turn we pay homage to our dead ancestors and thank them for having taken care of us while they were here on earth.”
Whereas Catholicism did its best (and worst) to establish its doctrine across the continent and was successful in converting many of the indigenous population to Christian customs, like attending mass, it failed to completely eradicate many native superstitions and beliefs.
Even today, Chicano/Latino people, especially those who are aware of their indigenous background, believe, for example, that a Shaman can help cure them. Others go on pilgrimages to visit icons and pray for special favors or thank a certain saint for their miraculous luck in passing a bar exam or being able to walk again and so on.
BOL the movie, however, is like a Mexican fiesta full of animated art and characters portrayed by the likes of Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, Kate del Castillo, Diego Luna and Zoe Saldaña among others.
Ethnic studies teachers would find it perfect to assign BOL to their students prior to going into Dia de Los Muertos lessons. For those of us who taught back in the day sans-electronic wonders, this movie would have been a Godsend for it illustrates perfectly one of the greatest barrio teaching aides, ‘the monito form.’
There upon a brightly colored wide screen, complete with super-duper sound, is a lesson to be both learned and appreciated.
We won’t play the ‘spoiler-alert-card,’ but suffice to tell you that if you’re not one of us bilingual and bicultural beings, you’ll be treated to a beautiful way to learn what makes us tick while others tock.
Producer del Toro and director Jorge Gutierrez have creatively recreated a journey of a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart.
But before choosing which path to follow, he embarks on an incredible adventure that spans three fantastical worlds where he must face his greatest fears. BOL amusingly pushes us to praise our past while still looking toward a better future.
The pilón-bonus- of such movies is that it further establishes La Raza’s culture as a really cool one. Or in. Probably both.