In the hit animated movie “Coco,” there’s a perfect moment when the grandmother of the main character, Miguel, menaces a man with her chancleta, Spanish for sandal.
It’s a wink to the movie’s Latino audience. It’s moments like those that made the movie work and ultimately translate to №1 at the box office, bringing in $71 million over Thanksgiving weekend.
Like many Latino Americans, I rushed to see “Coco” even though I don’t have children and I have never paid to see an animated movie in theaters as an adult.
I saw it as an opportunity to demonstrate Latino purchasing power. In Hollywood, money talks and with Latinos in lead roles few and far between it was important to show support so they make more movies like these. The director and the cast of “Coco” were mostly Latino, and the crew traveled to Mexico to ask people to research Mexico’s traditions to make sure the story they presented was accurate.
“Coco” is set in Mexico and the plot centers around a boy named Miguel and his family. Even though his family has put a ban on music in their household, Miguel has to learn to play his guitar in secret.
Holding the power is Miguel’s abuela, a formidable woman who acts as the family enforcer of discipline. She reminds me of my own Honduran grandmother, who may have chased me down with her flip flop from time to time growing up when I would try and jump on the plastic-covered couch in the living room.
The chancleta isn’t really about corporal punishment, at least it wasn’t in my family or with my friends. For all the times my abuela whipped her chancleta off her foot and shook it in her hand, she never actually hit me with one. It was more like a symbol of old-school discipline and what could happen if I didn’t stay in line. Latino families do not play when it comes to behavior. I may not be Mexican American, but I recognized Miguel’s grandmother in my own immediately.
While my friends may have gotten away with occasionally mouthing off to their parents or slamming doors, I shudder to think what would have happened to me had I tried something like that with my abuela. I wouldn’t dream of doing something like that now at 32 years old.
The chancleta is the perfect Latino meme that transcends countries of origin. While I may not be familiar with the traditions surrounding Dia De Los Muertos, another of the movie’s subplots, I do understand the power of the chancleta.