Disney’s ‘Gotta Kick It Up!’ Was a Celebration of Latinx Resilience
The movie centered around a dance competition, but the dynamics between Latinx students and White saviors were hard to miss
My native language, Spanish, is one of the most beautiful languages I’ve ever heard. I grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in a middle-class family, and the English language was my tool for upward mobility. There are private schools for every budget and the most selective ones are those that teach in English. Every May, these schools would publish the list of colleges their seniors got into in El Nuevo Día, the leading local newspaper. Some were lucky enough to get scholarships to colleges on the mainland. I wanted to be one of those students.
I was a precocious and inquisitive child always looking for a challenge. It was 2001, and we had just gotten cable TV, and I was excited to finally watch Disney Channel and the Food Network. To shape my conversational English, I watched Even Stevens and Rachael Ray. To improve my vocabulary, my mom drove me to Borders to purchase the books I’d devour during recess or after finishing my classwork. I sat with Tibby, Lena, Bridget, and Carmen as they cemented the sisterhood of the traveling pants. I watched as Mia Thermopolis navigated high school and royal duties in The Princess Diaries. I didn’t see myself in these books, but I didn’t give it a lot of thought. No one I knew did. We were fine with Televisa, the premier Mexican TV network, releasing telenovelas with mostly White characters, so this was no different.
It was 2002, and I was nine years old. For weeks, I saw the commercial for Gotta Kick It Up! and knew it was necessary to tune into what was possibly the first Disney Channel Original Movie with a Latinx cast. The film centers on a group of Latinxs from an inner-city middle school trying to form a dance team. It’s based on the experience of Meghan Cole, a co-producer of the movie, as a Teach for America teacher in Huntington Park, Los Angeles.
Gotta Kick It Up! made its debut with a Latinx director (Ramón Menéndez), writer (Nancy De Los Santos of East Los High), and a primarily Latinx cast led by America Ferrera and Camille Guaty. Cole told the…