TEACHING HERITAGE THROUGH DISNEY’S NEWEST FILM
I watched the new Disney movie featuring a South East Asian princess tonight and below is my plan for turning this into a teachable moment about their heritage. But first…
WHY DOES A SOUTHEAST ASIAN DISNEY PRINCESS MATTER?
How often do we find ourselves looking for a sort of connection between us and the characters we are watching? I would say, pretty much always. Our kids love to watch movies not only for entertainment but also for them to reenact particular scenes they love the most during playtime. And to see strong and powerful characters that look just like them, gives them a sense of hope that they, too, could be great and they could do amazing things, just like the character they look up to.
With the advent of a more open and accepting society, representation in movies helps children relate with characters that look like them and help them appreciate their heritage. Disney’s upcoming film “Raya and the Last Dragon” centers on a new Disney Princess that is South East Asian, with brown skin, hair, and eyes.
It is definitely a breakthrough from the films I grew up with in the 90’s. Alongside recent Disney movies with brown-skinned representation such as Moana and Soul, this upcoming film features a strong female lead that looks similar to the women in their families. It matters to me. My children can feel confident that there are strong characters that look like them and won't feel invisible, just as I had felt when I was a child.
How important is representation?
It is important for kids to see someone that looks like them on screen because it inspires them to reconnect with their roots and learn more about who they are. For South East Asian children who are not used to seeing brown-skinned Asian characters in animated movies they see, this helps them feel that they belong. A simple “Oh, she looks like me!” makes them be able to relate better with Raya and get excited with who they are, rather than trying to be someone else growing up.
Learning about one’s Heritage
Kids, at a young age, learning about their cultural history helps them begin developing a sense of identity. With the evolution of media culture and how it may diminish children’s appreciation for their own cultural identities, infusing culture into what media currently presents will help them understand and reconnect with their ancient cultural roots and how they came to be.
Giving your children the choice to get in touch with their heritage and let it live on allows them to keep it and share it to the next generations that follow. So to speak, this keeps tradition and culture alive for many years to come.
Here is my plan to turn watching MAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON into a moment for my children to learn more about their Filipino Heritage!
1) PULL OUT PHOTOS AND VIDEOS of family from the Philippines. Even research photos off of the internet about different festivals that your children can see like: Dinagyang, Ati-Atihan Festival, Sinulog, and more. Do they see a similarity in the costumes they see in these photos with what they may have seen in the film?
2) INTERVIEW A FAMILY MEMBER about the stories they were told when they were children. I don’t know if the Philippines has any dragon legends…but maybe my parents can tell my kids some Philippine folklore. One thing my parents loved to talk about when I was a kid were the superstitions (some seem scary for little ones).
Questions to ask:
-What are some customs or traditions would you want our family to continue?
-Where in the Philippines did you live? What was it like?
-What are some of your favorite memories as a kid growing up in the Philippines?
3) EAT FILIPINO FOOD by going to a local Filipino eatery. For our movie night, I went to the Pacific Island food court. The other option is to visit your family. Filipino home cooking is a great way to bond over food and talk about heritage. This time, let the entire family be involved in the prep, cooking, and cleaning. This quality time is priceless and perhaps creating a family cookbook would be a good start to pass down the recipes.