The Immigrant Kid Series, Part 3: My thoughts on the Encanto movie

I’m sure by now you have seen Encanto. And if you haven’t seen it, you’ve heard of it. I have now seen this movie two times- once in theater with my family (yes, we made a big trip out of it over Thanksgiving), and another time, once again with my family, over the Christmas holidays and I think I’m finally ready to share my thoughts and perspective on this movie, not only as a child of immigrants, but also someone who identifies with Colombian culture. I will break it up into two sections: Representation and intergenerational trauma.

Representation: 

I remember when I first heard that this movie was coming out….I was so happy, I’m pretty sure I cried just seeing the 5 second pre trailer (literally just a shot of the house and some music saying Coooloooombia in the background). Up to that point, all I had ever seen in popular culture when referencing Colombia was drugs and violence and the occasional sexy woman thrown in. This type of representation had very real impacts in how Colombia is perceived by the global community. Just read my first post in this series to see a few examples of the things my mother has experienced as a Colombian living in the United States. But here was a movie, a children’s movie at that, that was portraying the beauty of Colombian culture. The beautiful music, flora, fauna, people and architecture to name a few. To say I was excited would be an understatement. 

So when the time came this past November for Encanto to come out, of course my family made plans to go see it in theaters (note: this was the first time any of us had been in a theater since the start of the pandemic so you know it was a big deal!). We got our large popcorn and some drinks, settled into the big reclining chairs, and were ready. 2 hours later though, I left disappointed. I had been expecting a huge celebration of Colombian culture, like Coco did for an aspect of Mexican culture. I wanted ALL the music to be Colombian, but instead I got some Lin Manuel Miranda raps and one Carlos Vives song. I wanted them to show us MORE of Colombian culture and what it could be like to live, play, and eat in Colombia, but instead I got one shot of a healing arepa. What?! I felt cheated. Here was our chance to show Colombia off to the world and we had missed it. I knew that we would not be getting that chance again for a long, long time so needless to say, I was disappointed. I guess that’s what happens when you deprive anyone of positive representation. 

But then, I watched it a second time around and I took the time to intentionally notice the little things that Disney put into the movie to represent Colombia. I noticed how they were eating out of black clay bowls, what my mom used to serve our frijoles in. I noticed the guayaberas the men were wearing, the sombreros vueltiao, how Mirabel pointed to something with her mouth, Mirabel’s mochila, how Bruno said sana sana que sana colita de rana, and the yellow butterflies- a reference to one of Colombia’s most famous authors, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and a nod to magical realism. I noticed how the environment was based on real Colombian places, as well. The house is set in el Valle del cocora and the last scene between abuela and Mirabel took place in los caños cristales. And lastly, and probably one of the most important things about this movie in terms of representation, I noticed the diversity of the characters. Colombia is a beautifully diverse country and seeing the wide range of races represented was an amazing thing to me. So yes, you may have to look for these things more carefully, but they’re there and they’re an enchanting (heh, see what I did there?) representation of Colombian culture. 

Intergenerational Trauma: 

Whew okay, I did not expect this to be this long, but here we are! I am not a psychologist or expert on intergenerational trauma in any way, but I wanted to take time to talk about this here because I think it is a centerpiece of this story. A lot of people are making Abuela out to be a villain and yes her actions are toxic…that’s literally one of the main points of the story! But she is also a product of trauma. She lost her husband to a civil war (which if you didn’t know, Colombia has one of the largest internally displaced populations in the world) and had to deal with the trauma of both those events plus raising her three kids on her own. She was given a miracle in the form of the casita and saw it as her responsibility to be a good steward of that opportunity. This meant ensuring that her family was serving it’s community and it meant having high expectations for how they behaved. This meant high pressure on her children and grandchildren leading to the stress, estrangement and depression we see in the movie. Luisa is clearly suffering from anxiety and we hear it in her song when she says, “Give it to your sister, your sister’s older, Give her all the heavy things we can’t shoulder, Who am I if I can’t run with the ball?” Mirabel, the only one who doesn’t have a gift, is able to get a different perspective on her family since she doesn’t have to worry about how she is using her gift. She is able to see the pressure abuela is putting on her family and talk to each person and hear their struggles. With this information, she is able to confront abuela and help her realize what her actions have done. To me, abuela is just as much of a victim as anyone else in the movie. 

As a child of immigrants, I of course, can relate to this, as I’m sure many others can. Immigrants have to endure the trauma of leaving their countries and families behind as well as the process of becoming citizens in the United States over the course of multiple years – if they can even get to that point. This is without mention of any personal traumas and familial traumas they may have endured. For the kids of immigrants, there is an unspoken expectation of taking every advantage possible and achieving greatness because your parents gave up everything to come to the promised land. So yes, we all feel the pressure like Luisa, and the need to be perfect, like Isabela. Seeing abuela reflect and admit her wrongs is a cathartic moment of healing for anyone who feels this way, but especially for the children of immigrants. We understand the pressure to shine after our parents sacrifice so much for us. This movie does a beautiful job in telling this story and showing the path to healing and rebuilding (quite literally at the end) for any family. 

Final thoughts

It’s crazy to me to see so many people bopping along to music from Encanto on social media and absolutely loving the movie. I’ve had multiple people tell me I look like Mirabel (see below for a comparison) and my heart swells with pride every time they say that. I’ve never really had a character to look like or a celebrity look alike or anything like that so this representation is new for me and I’ve got to say, I love it! I now can’t listen to Colombia, Mi Encanto, the song Carlos Vives wrote for this movie, without tearing up. It may not have been everything I was hoping for but it was enough and for that I’m grateful. Que vive Colombia!

P.S.- Don’t I look like Mirabel??

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