As a First Gen Latinx, "Turning Red" Made Me Feel Seen
During my elementary school days, my mom created a schedule for my every move. Elsa wakes up, Elsa gets dressed, Elsa does homework, and Elsa goes to sleep, etc. It often felt what she wanted was perfection. When I saw the "Turning Red" trailer, I was instantly captivated and felt eager to watch. It showed Mei Mei's mom hiding behind a tree, checking up on her. That is something both my dad and mom would do. In high school, when I slowly was stepping away from the perfect straight-A student persona my parents wanted me to be, they visited unannounced to talk to my teachers and counselors.
"Hey Elsa, we just saw your mom in the hallway," my friends would say. I was mortified, just like Mei Mei. I am also an only child, a first-generation Mexican American 26-year-old who grew up in Mexico and then moved to Texas. My parents were born in Tamaulipas, Mexico but wanted me to be American. However, they are both generational rule breakers too. My dad was the first one in his family to go to college and my mom was the only one to go, out of her 11 siblings. Both of them left their homes young. My dad left in high school and my mom in elementary and went to live with an aunt. They wanted to escape their bubble and I have always admired that.
Unlike Mei Mei's parents, where her dad is more relaxed and not as overbearing as her mom, both of my parents are overbearing. Because they have accomplished so much without the help of anyone, they provided me with the best always. But this meant I needed to honor them, just like Mei Mei says at the beginning of the movie. I was raised to have goals, but at times it has felt exhausting. I was a straight-A student in elementary, I did public speaking and I had an excellent memory. I was also part of a small group of students who honored the Mexican flag on Mondays. I like being smart and learning but structure and perfectionism do not go well with me. I have never been good at math and the first time I failed a test, my mom got really upset with me. I have never forgotten it.
For a long time, I felt like I had to always be the best version of myself in order to keep my parents happy. It has prevented me from being able to live unapologetically and has felt suffocating too. Many of us grow up looking up to our parents like our superheroes. We often feel like we owe them for everything they've done for us. But it is not healthy to live a life where we seek approval because perfection does not exist. And trying to reach it will only make one tired and bitter. Mei Mei wanted to hide a part of herself that was lively, fun, and colorful. She was vibrant and hiding the real Mei Mei. My mom told me I could have gotten better grades in college and I shrugged it off. Comments like these no longer phase me because I know what I need in order to be happy.
You do not have to be Asian or Latinx to relate to this movie. In every family, there are moments of guilt and strained relationships at times. We are raised from an early age to honor our parents and make them happy. But why has it not been the first rule to keep ourselves happy first? Your happiness should not be obstructed in order to fulfill someone else's. Even if they gave you life. I am the one who lives in this body and I have learned over the years to know what is best for it.
I am so glad Disney and Pixar created this movie, especially coming from a female director and a female-led team. I was born in 1995 and the early 2000s nostalgia made it even better. But the conversations and themes around family dynamics, mom and daughter relationships, and generational trauma shook me to my core. It is not easy to honor yourself as Mei Mei says in the beginning. I have learned the hard way to put myself first but I believe it has to be more normalized. Our families already bring us joy and happiness but there is no real joy if you cannot be yourself around them. True happiness comes from being our true selves and "Turning Red" reminded me of that.