SPOILER ALERTS FOR DISNEY’S ENCANTO
Disney’s Encanto validated my generational trauma. That’s a lot to say, so let’s unpack it, shall we? I’ve been putting off watching Disney’s Encanto for a while, because I rarely feel represented in films as a brown person. Last time I was this excited, In the Heights was coming out, however the movie failed to honor our dark skinned Latinos in Washington Heights. I needed prime movie watching conditions and I didn’t allow myself to multitask which is abnormal. I sat down to write this blog post after I finished watching the movie.
The movie follows The Madrigals, a magical family living in the mountains of Colombia. We learn that the magic came after the Grandfather sacrificed himself to help his family start a new life, leaving behind his wife and 3 children. The children all have magic gifts and their children all have magic, except our main character, Mirabel.
The 3 children, born as triplets were: Pepa, who controls the weather via her emotions, Bruno, who has visions, and Julieta, who can cure people’s illnesses through food. I love these characters. Julieta reminds me of my Mom, who pours love into food. Food that you can laugh over, smile, or cry over. As a Puerto Rican, nothing can bring you together like food. Hard conversation goes best with a hot drink in the kitchen.
Bruno is cast out for his gift and the family won’t talk about him, giving an initial impression of family secrets. The ones that are kept from us growing up only to find out when we are older. It’s something we try to put away. Maybe it’s finding out about deep pain, perhaps it’s a family member in jail, could even be finding out the addictions of loved ones.
Pepa reminds me of the way energy can physically change when one person is a space. In some people that is a good thing; they can make it electric, freeing, or bright. In others it’s draining, suffocating, or empty.
Julieta marries Augustín and they raise their family in La Casita with all the Madrigals. Luisa who is very strong, Isabela who is beautiful and able to grow flowers, and finally Maribel who has no gift. Pepa marries Félix, making some beautiful brown babies. Dolores who hears just about everything, Camilo who can look like anyone, and most recently gifted Antonio who can talk to animals.
Luisa represents the cross we bear as the most recent generation, to be better and stronger for our families who just wanted a better life for us. I think a lot of people of color feel that pressure, it can look like: needing to do well in school, working from a young age to help the family, being successful because the elders didn’t sacrifice just for you to fail.
Isabela seems perfect initially, but then we find out she’s only going to marry a man to please the family. She represents growth that is necessary to become who you want to be. She shows that many of us will just accept the role we have been given because it’s what you do for family. The family is first. Sometimes family is suffocating.
Dolores hears everything, she reminds me of the family gossip. While family secrets are not gossip, they are often treated as such because of the desire to keep them covered. Dolores is the communication we have within our families. Without communication, we cannot heal from generational trauma. We shouldn’t be shamed for wanting answers or telling the truth. We do need to talk about Bruno!
Camilo, who can look like anyone, represents the youths in our families that are still impressionable and could end up like any of us. Reflecting ourselves back onto us. Our hurt generations can hurt more generations. I give credit to the forms of generational trauma that our grandparents and parents overcame, but the unaddressed trauma still harms their children. I’m sure there will always be things we do wrong, but we always need to be willing to do the work to change for our loved ones. People who can’t at least try to do the work aren’t committed to their loved ones.
Little Antonio puts his hand out to Miribel before receiving his gift and says “I need you.” This scene felt like the moment my nieces were born. Antonio represents the children in our families, the babies, the innocents. They need us, all of us, to be better, to show up for them the way no one showed up for us.
The conflict of the movie begins when Mirabel notices the magic that gives her family powers and keeps the house together is failing. She is determined to identify the cause despite her Grandmother’s demands that she stay out of the way. Mirabel reconnects with Bruno to learn about his vision. We can’t solve the problem until we outgrow the urge to be secretive about our family trauma. Maribel learns that she can still change the outcome of Bruno’s vision by connecting with her sister. When she gets her sister to open up, admitting that she is only marrying to please the family, she finally grows a cactus instead of strictly a flower. Letting go of people-pleasing within the family can be scary and self-advocacy might feel a bit prickly, but it’s necessary.
When Mirabel repairs her relationship with her sister Isabela, the magic of the family grows. Their Grandmother sees Mirabel getting Isabela to be herself and doesn’t like her loss of control. The Grandmother yells at Mirabel and blames her for the magic failing.The resulting fallout drains away the magic. This scene cut me pretty deep. I felt the pain of being let down by the older generations. Just wanting them to be proud of you, to just be enough, but getting trauma placed on you instead. In the end, the magic is only restored when Mirabel heals her troubled relationship with her Grandmother when her Grandma opens up about her pain and owns her toxic-ass-behavior.
I love the movie, it had great songs, a physically strong female character, a diverse rainbow of Latinos, BLACK LATINOS included, but it also helped me focus on my place in my family. Breaking generational trauma is hard. For a really long time I just felt bad, full of anger, but right now I feel okay. I feel that I am finally growing in ways I didn’t know I could and I am doing the work I need to do to make this family better for my nieces.