Trailer image of ‘Cousins’ (YouTube)
Latino Culture and the Debate Surrounding Disney’s ‘Cousins’
Latino culture is divided. And with a burning debate differentiated by two sides: the natives of Latin American countries and the descendants of Latinos in the US who are questioning the belonging of the language and culture through social networks. And all because of Cousins, the new Disney animated series that hasn’t even been released yet (nor does it have a release date) but that many are criticizing as “racist” and propagating the “stereotypical” image of Latino culture from a perspective that does not make the audience in Mexico and the rest of Latin America feel represented.
It all started on June 14 when the channel presented a video with the musical introduction of the series, revealing a story that revolves around a girl from 10-year-old named Tater whose life takes a radical turn when 12 of her cousins settle in her house. According to the official synopsis, it is an animated series about family entanglements where, despite the initial conflicts, the character strengthens relationships through different adventures.
At first glance, it may seem like a harmless idea. A girl, adventures, family… Nothing special. Until we see the happy ‘intro’. Because in the 59-second video the different themes that can hurt sensibilities are evident. One of the elements that is most upsetting is that the song’s chorus says “Hey cousins”, denoting an obvious grammatical error that combines a verb in the singular with a plural noun. As if the people involved did not have basic knowledge of the language they represent with the series. Because, in any case, it should be ‘Hey cousins’ or ‘Hey cousin’.
On the other hand, some names of the characters in question have not been funny either. Like ‘Cuquita’, as it is a colloquial way of referring to the female reproductive organ in countries like Colombia. Or that the city where the story takes place is called Earthquake Heights, arousing the rejection of many users who feel that the horrors experienced in Mexico or Chile due to this type of natural disaster were not taken into account.
Or the simple fact that everyone has to live in the same house, perpetrating the stereotype of a crowded, low-income, messy and dirty family (in a sequence of the ‘intro’ the room is clearly dirty, with clothes thrown on the floor and everyone happy and content in the middle of the dirt). It is true that Latinos are ‘family members’ but it is not that we all feel represented with the idea of being all under one roof.
Depicting Latino Culture from a Multicultural Mexican-American Perspective
However, there is a detail that must be taken into account when analyzing the initial reaction and arriving at a definitive conclusion. And it is evident that Cousins is not portraying the Latino culture of a particular Latin American country, but rather the culture of the descendants of Latin Americans in the US. In this case, apparently, from a multicultural Mexican-American family. As this debate demonstrates, they share clear differences with the rest of Latin America. For example, in the limited access to learn fluency in the language or the use of stereotypes forced by Hollywood to identify a Latino-American family in fiction.
And this is demonstrated by the reactions of several people involved with the series who have added to the debate giving her opinion, defending her work and the vision that they intend to reflect. For example, Myrna Velasco, who lent her voice to the protagonist, responded by criticizing the comments against the “American Latino” representation, defending the perspective of those who grow up in USA with roots passed down, learning the Spanish language without the influence of the whole culture.
In addition, he recognizes the social difficulties of knowing that they will be criticized for not speaking Spanish perfectly, while the same country where they live makes them “feel less due to the customs and traditions that we carry from our Latin roots.” “The language is fluent. and transitory depending on where you live and who you learned it from. I, the writers, and the creators of this beautiful program do not have to prove our Latinity to you or to any other grammar nazi on the Internet,” she said, obviously annoyed.
In turn, he continued through an Instagram story (in English) explaining that “the Spanish language is not a language of Latin America. It is a language that the Spanish conquistadors forced on the Latin American people. The only reason we are people Latina and non-Native American is because of that distinction,” she replied. “Get mad at me all you want for spelling mistakes in Spanish, for mispronouncing words, that doesn’t take away from the fact that I’m a native Mexican-American woman.”
The problem is that several users later discovered that a while ago she posted a photo of her grandparents on Instagram, thanking them for leaving “that shitty country” (it is understood that she is talking about Mexico if she claims to be Mexican-American) so that she could have “dream jobs” . A publication that, evidently, does not help their cause by perpetrating an idea of superiority for having grown up in the United States far from the Mexican culture in its entirety.
In turn, the creator and producer of the series, Natasha Kline, resorted to the diplomacy to respond to the polemic, explaining how, in the end, he creates his content within the limits of his own experience. “It’s difficult when you carry the dreams of others. I only stand firm with the truth that I know,” he said. And the reaction has been so negative that Disney removed the video from several official accounts and currently it can only be seen on the YouTube channel where, in addition, they have deactivated the comment option.
The Debate on Ownership of Latino Culture
In summary, it seems clear to me that this is a debate that brings to the table the new ramification of Spanish-speaking culture. The one that was probably also experienced during the cultural and generational transition of European immigrants who influenced the mix and forms that our culture took over the years. But that, at that time, they did not have social networks to overturn the differentiation that was brewing through the descendants in Latin American countries.
As those involved defend, the introduction of Primos reflects the idea of Latin American culture with its errors grammatical problems by not having the same language influence as the rest of the countries, as well as failures in the general perception of Latin culture before the rest of the continent. Like showing a crowded, disorderly family or using names that show the lack of Hispanic knowledge in general to please the culture in its entirety. This confirms to me that Primos was made from the exclusive perspective of the Latino descendant in the United States, and the debate did nothing more than highlight the differences that characterize us.
On the one hand, the Latinos of Latin America and, on the other, those who trace their roots through family influences, exempt from all the ramifications that the rest of us have, from the neighborhood, friends, family, school, etc. And this brings us to the great substantive debate. Who owns the Latino culture? To the countries of Latin America or to anyone who is descended no matter where they live, as long as they grow up and are nourished by the same roots feeling Latino inside?
I think that in this case, both sides have their reasons for being right and wrong when it comes to Same time. On the one hand, because those responsible for the series do not seem to have taken into account the perception that the rest of the continent would have towards the stereotyped image of the main family or the grammatical errors that characterize them. That is, we can have our mistakes from time to time, but we know how to conjugate the verbs. We do it daily. All the time. And since we have not been taken into account when it comes to an animated series with Latino characters that will obviously arouse the interest of the Spanish-speaking audience, it seems normal to me that many feel offended.
However, also from this side of the continent we can exercise the mutual understanding and accepting that our culture is expanding throughout the world, with…