Disney's Encanto is a beautiful little tale about a young Colombian girl, full of magic, the cutest Disney kid ever to exist (Antonio), and the melodic tunes of Lin-Manuel Miranda.
But deeper than that, it's a story that celebrates magical realism, and illustrates the generational trauma that is often passed down in immigrant families.
"When I first watched the movie it was kind of a shock, because most of the time you kind of ignore all this [family issues], so having the movie kind of put a mirror to our face and show us all we’ve dealt with, it was shocking to have that be exposed to us," 35-year-old Violeta Sandoval — who emigrated from Mexico with her parents when she was 4 — told BuzzFeed.
Encanto follows the tale of Mirabel, a young girl who lives in the Encanto, a magical place in the mountains of Colombia. Her family, the Madrigals, are each given a unique gift when they come of age that allows them to not only serve their family, but also protect their town and better serve their community — everyone but Mirabel that is, who is the only child in her family to not have been given a magical power. The family is headed by Abuela Alma, who will stop at nothing to ensure her family's magic remains strong, and their gifts are passed down from each generation.
"There’s three sisters, and although they each have their own issues and personalities, all three of those [characters] can be applied to the first-generation immigrant," Violeta explained. "For example, Isabela is the face of the family — I had to do the same thing, where you have to be the perfect one, and you kind of have to give up a lot of your childhood and your dreams and aspirations to better the family."
Like Violeta, many other first-generation Americans and immigrants have taken to TikTok in recent weeks to share what Encanto meant to them, and how their own experiences are reflected in those of the characters in the movie.
"I know for a lot of different people it could be about a lot of different things, like slavery or colonization, but I think the movie is about generational trauma because it’s about how trauma is passed down," 18-year-old Margot Masclans, whose father emigrated from Bolivia, told BuzzFeed.
"[Encanto] made me think about my father a lot because education is really important to him," Margot continued. "The reason he left Bolivia was because resources he was going to depend on were ripped from him, and he had to start completely over."
The scene Margot is referring to is the gut-wrenching flashback showing Abuela being forced out of her home and watching her husband get murdered in front of her, as she clutches her three babies to her chest. When the smoke clears, all that remains is the magical candle that continues burning.
Abuela's initial mistreatment of Maribel in the beginning of the film has also led to lots of social media discourse about the abuse some first-generation Americans face from their elders, a point 21-year-old Anthony Guevara, whose parents emigrated from El Salvador and Honduras, believes is extremely important to understand: "A lot of people were villainizing the grandma in the movie, but you have to understand that she became a single mother very young, she saw her husband murdered in front of her, so she’s the start of generational trauma, and the movie is symbolic of Indigenous displacement," Anthony told BuzzFeed. "She was afraid of losing what her husband sacrificed to give her."
There is a lot to be taken from not only the overall message of Encanto, but also the symbolism of the characters, themes, and song lyrics. "The whole gift metaphor is really funny," Margot laughed. "My family jokes a lot that my dad has these set plans for us, and how closely you follow them determines how much he likes you."
For Violeta, she said she really hopes that this movie helps others to understand what it's like for immigrants and first-generation Americans in "just trying to catch up with the American-born people, and having to deal with the family trauma of coming over here, and having to learn English, and assimilate, and navigate life," she explained. "Even simple things like how to pay bills, and use credit cards, and all those things that are taught in school eventually, you have to find out because your parents can’t teach you."