We teach our children not to hate others because, in the end, hatred will destroy them.
But does that adage also apply to adults—and specifically to those Latinos who tell me that they hate Donald Trump?
You see, there’s an uncomfortable truth that my people—mi gente—are not quite ready to accept: The 45th president lives rent free in the minds of the nation’s largest minority.
That is, too many of us can’t stop making everything about Trump. When something bad happens to our community, we say, “It’s Trump’s fault.” When something good happens, we say, “Well, that’ll show Trump!”
The latest evidence of this unhealthy Latino obsession with Trump comes from an unexpected source: the reaction to the hit new film Coco.
An animated musical from Disney and Pixar that honors the Day of the Dead, the film was co-directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, who also wrote the screenplay. Coco is about a 12-year-old Mexican boy named Miguel who wants to be a musician despite his family’s objection. When an accident takes him to the “other side,” he meets his ancestors and connects with his past.
With a voiceover cast that includes Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, and Alanna Ubach, the film has been racking up critical acclaim and box office success. It took in an estimated $71.2 million over the long holiday weekend. It also earned another $82.2 million from foreign markets, most notably Mexico.
There are a lot of positive things to say about all this. For one thing, we’re watching Hollywood history in the making. Here you have a movie with a Latino theme, Latino writer, Latino co-director, Latino cast, and Latino consultants—that hasn’t been barrio-ized by being aimed solely at Latinos—and America has gone loco for it.
My Mexican-American parents—who are now in their mid-seventies—grew up in an America where Mexican kids sat in the balcony in movie theaters, couldn’t eat in certain restaurants, and attended segregated schools. They’ve waited their whole lives for a movie like this.
And yet, who’s the star of the show? Unfortunately, for many Latinos, it’s Donald Trump.
Are you kidding me? Hasn’t this man taken enough from us, with his insults and insensitivity? Now some people want to let him take over our moment of glory? No way, Jose.
Still, for many, the nation’s warm embrace of Coco is all the more wonderful because of who’s in the White House—and how he got there. Suddenly, movie reviews read like political essays.
This how Andy Crump of The Hollywood Reporter sees the significance of telling a story like Coco in times like these: “This is a big, screaming deal for the political moment we’re going through in America right now, a moment colored in part by open disdain for Mexico and its people by our government.”
Crump even uses the movie to take a poke at Trump’s fantastical border (“Coco has nothing to do with The Wall, though in its own way it is about borders, being the border between the realms of the living and the dead”). But he concludes that the content of the film isn’t as important as the fact that it exists in the first place. (“Just by being what it is—a top-down cross-cultural creative collaboration about an important Mexican holiday—Coco sends precisely the message it needs to.”)
Garcia Bernal shares that sentiment, and he put an even finer point on it by focusing on the next generation of Mexicans living in the United States. “I want to dedicate this film to all the children who have ancestors from Mexico and Latin America,” he told a reporter. “In this moment, these kids are growing up with a lot of fear because the established narrative says that they come from families that come from rapists, murderers, and drug traffickers. We are such a complex and profound culture, and these kids need to be empowered to stand up and say that what is being said about them is a complete lie.”
There’s no harm in such interpretations. I understand all these points, and I agree with most of them.
But if there is some huge anti-Trump message in Coco and in the public reaction to it, I must have missed it. By the way, I’m sorry I did. I’ve written dozens of anti-Trump columns since the Carnival-Barker-In-Chief descended down that escalator in Trump Tower and announced his candidacy. And I expect to write dozens more.
For many of the country’s 57 million Latinos—a demographic group that accounts for about 17 percent of the total U.S. population, or about 1 in 6 Americans—the Trump presidency is a nightmare that is made even more frightening by the fact that it marks a triumph of demagoguery over decency.
Put simply: This is where America failed us. Our countrymen did little to defend us when, for a year and a half, all throughout his presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly treated Latinos as his personal piñata. You know the low points: the references to “bad hombres” and “bringing drugs” and “bringing crime,” the attacks on Judge Curiel and so much more. And during his presidency, the hits have just kept coming, from giving a pardon to Joe Arpaio to threatening to cut off aid to Puerto Rico as it continues to recover from Hurricane Maria.
Clearly, obsession can be a two-way street. There have been many times when it seemed as if Latinos were living rent free in Trump’s mind. I get that. And maybe, as they say, turnabout is fair play.
But here’s my problem: I expect a lot more from my people than I do from my president, and what I want most is for Latinos to get on with their lives without constantly feeling the need to use Trump as a touch point. Not everything is about Trump.
And when a special movie like Coco comes along, the last thing Latinos should be thinking about amid the celebration is what the film, and the public’s reaction to it, says about the experience of living in Trump’s America.
After all, this land is our land too. We love our country, and we’ve paid for the privilege—in blood and sacrifice, dating back to the Civil War. This cohort over-enlists in military service. To date, 60 Latinos have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, many of them posthumously.
We owe this country everything, but we don’t owe Trump a damn thing. The president has been squatting in the minds of American Latinos long enough. It’s time he got evicted.