The Persistence of Memory

Forgiveness, Forgetting, and Cultural Assimilation


  • Anise K. Strong Western Michigan University



Classical Reception, Coco, Immigration, Ancestors, Underworld


The 2017 Pixar film Coco and the 2021 Disney film Encanto form a small part of an increasing modern wave of media focused on parent-child conflicts caused by intergenerational trauma and rejection. Other recent works in this genre include the video game Hades, the films Turning Red and Everything Everywhere All At Once, and the television series Ms. Marvel. The traumas in all these films, some directed explicitly at a younger audience and some pitched more broadly, serve as a distinct set of meditations on the immigrant experience, even while not necessarily focusing on literal immigration. They also all invoke imagery of ghosts and death, both echoing specific classical Mediterranean motifs and tropes and incorporating a wide variety of other cultures’ supernatural traditions. These works’ concern with familial traumas of separation, culture shock, and loss of ancestral memories and connections contrasts sharply with the individual-focused myth of the American Dream common to earlier generations of American media, in which a lone individual typically emigrates, assimilates, and succeeds in a new culture, forming a new family and set of myths. However, themes of assimilation and questions of cultural imperialism also form a bridge between ancient Roman and modern North American anxieties and traditions.