My husband Jeff and I were able to cross the #1 item off our collective bucket list two years ago. We had the opportunity to visit the Pixar campus. With tears hiding behind our sunglasses, we pulled through the gates; and with our jaws on the floor, we shook the hands of those who worked on the very movies that brought our family so much joy. We were there to screen their latest movie The Good Dinosaur — about a sweet little dino named Arlo, who was on a journey to find his family.
With a super-sized Luxo Jr. in plain view, I remember looking up from the atrium to the second floor and seeing a rainbow of papel picado. “What’s happening up there?” I asked our guide. “We’re working on an upcoming movie about Día de los Muertos,” he responded.
“Oh my gosh, I cannot WAIT for that one,” I whisper-screamed to Jeff. I’ve always had a fascination with places rich in color and culture, Mexico being one of them.
Little did I know that two years later we’d be watching that very movie, Coco, at a screening on the Disney lot — with a whole new level of admiration for it. Just seven months prior we adopted our son Arlo, and his birth mother told us how important it was that we honor his Mexican heritage. “Of course, we’d be honored to,” we promised.
Disney runs as deep in our family’s veins as the Armenian, Jewish, Italian, Irish, and now Mexican blood does. It was there for us when we had our first date to see Mary Poppins on Broadway. It was there for us when “Married Life” from Up played as I walked down the aisle to my high school sweetheart. And it was there for us when we were searching for the perfect name for our son, who went on quite a journey to find his forever family — just like that sweet dinosaur Arlo.
It was even there for this tired and teary-eyed mom when Mrs. Potts and Moana were the only other women who could lull my fussy baby to sleep.
When we started the adoption process, we had to write on paper what kind of parents we wanted to be — including how we’ll raise our child and what we’ll share with him. We wrote that we wanted to share our culture and tradition, and instill the deepest importance of family.
To us, it’s as important for Arlo to know how to “speak whale” as it is for him to know the makings of the perfect pizza — near and dear to this mom’s Italian roots. And it felt eerily like fate that the same year he came into our lives, Pixar released a movie that so beautifully honored a culture we were just beginning to explore with Arlo.
After seeing Coco, we realized that we had some work ahead of us, to fulfill the cultural promises we made to our child on those adoption papers. The movie highlighted the importance of family, honoring your ancestors, and carrying on traditions — which really struck a chord. I was so moved by the main character Miguel Rivera and his family story that I explored the Rivera Family Tree on Ancestry.com. While learning more about Miguel’s ancestors, I discovered that the site has so many public family documents — from passenger to immigration to military records. It got me thinking: why don’t I know more about my ancestors?
So, I immediately started exploring their extensive database of records to learn about our family heritage. Click after click, I found more and more facts about my great grandparents and their great-grandparents. It turns out, my dad’s side of the family immigrated from southern Italy and my mom’s family has a four-generation history of farming in Ohio. We also found out from Ancestry’s immigration records that much of Jeff’s family arrived from Armenia three generations ago, while his grandmother (originally from Istanbul) moved from Paris to the U.S. when she was just 7 years old.
I started to think about tangible ways we could teach Arlo about our family’s great history. Since food is a passion of ours, I thought about having one night a month where we all learn to cook a meal together from one of our cultures — such as discovering the art of pilaf from Jeff’s Armenian heritage. We could even ask our grandparents if they have any family recipes, or learn about a new ingredient from the towns they were from. It’s a great way to bring everyone to the dinner table to eat as a family, just like the Riveras in Coco.
We’re also excited to all learn together about ways we can honor Arlo’s Mexican background and ancestors. We plan to learn Spanish and have already started collecting Mexican artwork for Arlo’s room, to surround him with the culture’s vibrancy as he grows.
Click through to see the Rivera Family Tree on Ancestry.com.
May your family also get inspired by watching Coco, now in theaters.