The first time I saw Encanto in theaters, I let out one of those ugly cries that only matched the one that Luisa, the strong sister, lets out when she loses her strength. I, too, found myself weak before a film that was unlike any I had ever seen before. And at the same time, I felt I had found a golden ticket to add to my toolbox when speaking with Latinx families about intergenerational healing.
Beyond the film being useful and catalyzing for these conversations and beyond being embarrassing for my 10-year-old sitting next to me, my ugly cry was representative of the fact that Encanto gave me so much to reflect on about my own parenting journey.
While watching Encanto, I was deeply moved by the messages that the movie held around parenting as a Latinx mother. I felt seen in a way no Disney film had ever made me feel seen before, with all of the layers that culture adds to the way I show up as a parent. This was a film about healing but it also holds many lessons we, as Latinx parents, can apply to our the relationships we have with ourselves and our kids. Let’s break down some of what Encanto affirms for us Latinx parents.
It’s OK to say you’re not fine and accept support.
Although Abuela felt the need to protect the Encanto and the community that had been grown by it, in the end we see that the real hero, besides Maribel, was the entire community’s willingness to help. Every person who had benefited from the Encanto shows up in order to ensure Casita gets rebuilt. They may not have been involved in the Madrigal family’s internal happenings, but when Casita was destroyed they knew that their role was to step in and rebuild together.
Just as Abuela had to learn, I have also learned that I must allow myself to ask for help and community support in order to build a life where I don’t need to look beyond myself, in this moment as I am, for the gift. Abuela thinks she can handle everything on her own, as long as she continues placing expectations on her family to maintain the facade of the perfect home. In the end, she recognizes that she cannot serve her community by shouting “Everything is FINE! We are the Madrigals!”.
She could have taken a cue from Mirabel who sings “I’m not fine” and sets the example for all of us to acknowledge the ways we are not “fine” in order to begin to make progress on our healing journeys. Our children long for us to begin to heal at a personal level so that our children can feel the effect of our healing and benefit from it.
There has been so much power in approaching motherhood with compassion for myself and the bravery to mourn what I, and others in my family including my own mother, have been through. This makes it easier for us to celebrate what I am capable of as I move forward on my path of healing.
It’s important to evaluate how our wounds manifest in our parenting.
This might be a hard pill to swallow for Abuela Alma. First, let’s recognize that many elders in our families and others like Abuela may not have had the privilege of sitting and reflecting or grieving losses in a slow and intentional way. Abuela’s loss of her husband and her whole world being ripped away from her was clearly such a painful and traumatic event, that carrying on with fulfilling her matriarchal duties (preserving the miracle) gives her a sense of purpose and becomes her priority. Perhaps it doesn’t start off as rigidly prioritized as we see her when she is aged, but by that time what she has been doing, up until Mirabel does not receive her gift, has “worked” to keep the family together and keep the house running smoothly.
In the same way, glossing over our grief may feel protective, but also manifest in behaviors that hurt our children and loved ones, the way it hurt Mirabel. This has not always been easy to practice for me! Although I can hold compassion for myself and what my family has gone through, it is ultimately my role and each of our responsibility to see situations as objectively as possible and take responsibility for our role in causing harm that my children and others may be feeling from me. Parenting requires us to be accountable to our growth so that we do not project our wounds onto our loved ones.
There is a gift in being a safe space for our children, and letting others be a safe space for us.
Mirabel was the family’s true safety and could see the family’s truth because she wasn’t distracted from it or attempting to preserve a gift like the other characters — a gift she wasn’t given. Bruno, Isabella, and Luisa are able to safely tell her their truth, and even sweet Antonio asks Mirabel to walk him up the stairs to his door because she is the safest person to him. Ultimately, she is able to show Abuela that the real miracle lies in telling and accepting her own story fully so that there can be a rebuilding of Casita and a new and truer way of being a family. Mirabel invites everyone to be true to themselves, and holds herself with as much grace as possible in the face of Abuela’s rejection and disdain.
In similar ways, we need to prioritize being safe spaces for our children to show up as their full selves without judgments or projections. I have learned that the more I have been able to set this intention of being that safe space for my children, the more we I have been able to recognize the ways that I am also deserving of the same from others who have the capacity and love for me to simply “be” while showing up authentically myself.
It’s okay to learn to rest without feeling like we’re worthless
Any other big sisters in the Casita? Whew! Surface Pressure took the wind out of me because, like so many who grew up in Latinx families, the message I grew up with was that productivity and serving others was the measure of my worth. There is so much self-sacrifice from the characters in Encanto, and this is very much aligned with what I’ve experienced as a mom.
Because I came from a family lineage where my family may very well have perished if all persons in the family didn’t work their hardest and sacrifice times of would-be rest, it took me a long time to learn that there was value in pausing, resting, simply existing without an agenda to produce or serve. We live in a world where parental burnout is very common, and Encanto teaches us that it does not need to get to that point. We are more than worthy of rest and ease, and so is Luisa.
These are just some of the ways that Encanto spoke to my parenting as a Latinx mama. It reinforces the importance of continuing to work on intergenerational healing at every level: personal, familial, cultural, historical and beyond. We can learn so much from the lessons that the Familia Madrigal had to learn, and my hope is that we will continue to see this film spark more conversations around what is needed for us to integrate the intention for healing into our lives in concrete ways that benefit our families and our descendants.