Every year for the past 32 years, Americans celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15 to October 15, honoring the contributions of Hispanic-Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. And that
deserves to be celebrated. Not only that, it deserves to be celebrated with our children. There are lots of things you can do: read books, patronize Hispanic-owned businesses, contribute to non-profits that benefit Hispanic communities, eat special foods. Why not also take in a good movie? We’ve found 10 family movies to watch during Hispanic heritage month that kids of all ages can enjoy.
There are some shortcomings in this list that would be irresponsible to ignore. For one, our list features
mostly movies from and/or about Mexico and Mexican culture, despite the fact that the term “Hispanic” describes a lot of different countries and cultures. But in the United States, where folks of Mexican heritage make up a majority of the Hispanic population (Puerto Ricans are the second largest and represent under 10% of the total Hispanic population), these are the movies that are made here or imported from abroad. Another shortcoming lies in the fact that Hispanic characters and actors are notoriously underrepresented in Hollywood, according to The LA Times. Indeed, UCLA’s annual Hollywood Diversity Report found that, relative to population, Latinos (who overlap broadly, but not entirely with Hispanic folks... it’s a little complicated but, long story short, the two terms can often be used to describe the same populations but are not interchangeable) are the most underrepresented ethnic group in Hollywood.
But, despite limitations, we’ve put together a list of movies and cartoons that you can enjoy as a family.
La Leyenda de la Llorona
La Llorona is the mournful spirit of a woman so haunted by the deaths of her children that she now roams around bodies of water, haunting the living, specifically by kidnapping children! When she takes Beto, it’s up to his little sister Kika to rescue him. Fortunately, she has some help... a whimsical hot air balloon full of colorful characters who want to help Beto (and the other missing children) and set La Llorona to rest.
Stream La Leyanda de la Llorona, rated G*, on Amazon Prime
*While this is rated G, parents should be warned that the story itself is quite spooky and may be too much for young viewers.
Common Sense Media suggests it is suitable for children 8 and older. Coco
Miguel wants to be a musician, just like his hero, local legend Ernesto de la Cruz. Unfortunately, music is banned in his family. During an
accidental trip to the Land of the Dead on Día de los Muertos, he meets the skeleton spirits of his ancestors, including the stern Imelda, who banned music in the first place when her husband left her to pursue his career. Determined to honor his family and his dream of becoming a musician, Miguel seeks the otherworldly blessing of de la Cruz to return to the Land of the Living before he is trapped among the spirits forever. Stream Coco, rated PG, on Disney+ Ferdinand
When Ferdinand was just a calf living at Casa del Toro, a special farm and training center for bulls to learn to fight against matadors, his father was chosen for battle and died. Devastated, he ran away to a flower farm, where he lived happily with Nina and her father. (No one there minds that he's a pacifist!) By the time he is discovered by the authorities, he has grown from a tiny calf to an enormous bull, prompting the owners of Casa del Toro to train him for the bullrings in Madrid. But the only thing bigger than Ferdinand is his spirit, and he is determined to end the violence.
Stream Ferdinand, rated PG, on Disney+ Xico’s Journey
This animated feature from Mexican animation studio Anima Estudios is the story of the picturesque village of San Jaime de las Jaibas, whose sacred mountain has recently been revealed to be chock full of gold. It’s not long, of course, before a large corporation comes in to extract it... at devastating environmental and spiritual cost. Copi and her friend Gus are determined to save the mountain. Fortunately, Xoloitzcuintle dogs like Copi’s beloved pet, Xico, have a special place in the spiritual beliefs of Mexico, and might be just what they need to save their land.
Come for a celebration of Hispanic heritage; stay for the anti-corporate environmentalist message!
Stream Xico’s Journey, rated TV-Y7, on Netflix The Book of Life
Told through the frame of students on a secret museum tour,
The Book of Life is the story of a Mexican town called San Angel where, on the Day of the Dead, La Muerta, ruler of the Land of the Remembered and Xibalba, ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, make a wager upon seeing three children, Manolo, Joaquín, and María. If María marries Manolo when they grow up, Xibalba will no longer interfere in mortal affairs. But if she marries Joaquín, La Muerte and Xibalba will swap realms. Of course, when dealing with the duplicitous Xibalba, you know he’s going to try to tip the scales... Stream The Book of Life, rated PG, on Disney+ McFarland, USA
Based on actual events,
McFarland, USA tells the story of Jim White, a failed football coach who decides to start a cross country team in the predominantly Latino town of McFarland after recognizing the incredible speed of some of his players. Despite economic disadvantage and the fact that many of the runners also work farm jobs with their families before and after school, the team upsets the odds and heads to state championships by rallying as a community.
A first glance, this may look like just another “White Savoir” movie (no pun on the coach’s name intended: it was ironically
the guy’s actual name) a la Dangerous Minds or The Blind Side. But critics have praised the film as pushing back on those familiar tropes even as the trappings of them remain fairly identical, noting that it successfully tells a story about cross-cultural exchange and community building. Stream McFarland, USA, rated PG, on Disney+ Stand and Deliver
Based on the true story of Bolivian-born math teacher Jaime Escalante and his students,
Stand and Deliver takes place at a Los Angeles high school in the early 1980s. The students there are mainly from poor and working class Latino families, and are performing far below grade-level. Escalante is determined to change the culture of the school – which sets low expectations for the kids – and get the students to reach their full potential. Seeing untapped brilliance in his students, he sets a goal for them: take AP Calculus by senior year and pass the exam. Stream Stand and Deliver, rated PG, on HBOMax Dora and the Lost City of Gold
Dora Márquez is the daughter of jungle explorers Cole and Elena, and lives a life of adventure in the Peruvian jungle as her parents search for Parapata, the lost Incan city of gold. When her parents determine the location, they send their somewhat eccentric daughter to stay with her cousin Diego in Los Angeles. When her parents are reported missing however, she must use all her intelligence and moxy to rescue them.
Based on the preschool show
Dora the Explorer, the movie’s Dora is similarly without a specific ethnic identity, but teaches audiences broadly about Hispanic and Latin American language and culture. Moreover, it is one of the few movies with an almost entirely Hispanic cast. Stream Dora and the Lost City of Gold , rated PG, on Hulu Selena
This iconic biopic follows the rise and untimely death of Selena Quintanilla, a Mexican-American singer who became a legend. When Selena’s father Abraham discovers her natural talent for singing and performing – a dream of his that had been dashed years earlier – he forms a band with her as the lead singer. Over time, the charismatic Texan wins over audiences in Mexico (despite not speaking particularly good Spanish) and even wins a Grammy, prompting her to record a cross-over album to gain popularity with a broader American audience. But tragedy strikes in the form of the nefarious president of her fan club.
Stream Selena, rated PG, on Peacock Cesar Chavez
As you might guess from the title,
Cesar Chavez is a biopic, directed by Diego Luna, about Cesar Chavez, a labor organizer who formed the United Farm Workers union and led multiple worker strikes in California.
While criticized for being overly reverential of the complicated Chavez, it’s nevertheless a great movie to watch in order to start conversations about this important chapter in American history – from the role Hispanic American farm workers played in the Labor movement to the discrimination and unfair treatment that prompted them to band together in the first place.
Stream Cesar Chavez, rated PG-13, on HBO Max