At Nichole Flores in Hempstead, she and her children, Valentina, 5, Adam, 9 and Maricela, 11, watch a film, alternating between cuddling and getting up to dance and sing. They know every move and every word. “It’s us like almost every night,” Maricela says, between scenes on the big screen.
And the movie almost every night? “Encanto,” a film that affirms the life, family, and Latinx of Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Since the film hit theaters and on Disney+ in November, it’s become a big hit, especially with Latinx families like the Flores, not just for its earworm songs “We Don’t Talk About Bruno ” and “Dos Oruguitas” by Lin-Manuel Miranda, but also for the revolutionary way in which it portrays Latinx families on screen.
Mirabel Madrigal is an unlikely Disney princess: a brunette girl with glasses instead of a tiara, unruly black curls instead of long, flowing locks, no skinny waist, and not waiting for a prince to save her. She is the central character and the only ordinary member of an extraordinary family with magical gifts living in an enchanted town in the Colombian mountains called Encanto. The enchantment is dying and Mirabel tries to save it. She discovers that gifts can be important, and that the key to healing both magic and family rifts is telling the truth and trusting each other.
“I tried so hard to give her our culture, but it was the film that transformed her.”
Inés Yazbek, 45, on “Encanto”
Mirabel’s extended family comes in a wide range of skin colors, shapes and sizes, much like Latino families on Long Island. Nichole Flores, whose home includes Puerto Rican, African American, Dominican and Salvadoran roots, was charmed from the start.
“We watched Disney movies all the time, but the families never looked like ours,” she says. “All of a sudden, my 5-year-old says, ‘They have my skin color and their hair looks like mine.’ After the show, all of my kids identified who they were in the movie. They saw their story and chose a role for themselves. It was powerful.
La Maison des Madrigals is a magically realistic animated casita with traditional tiles and woodwork, where Mirabel’s mother prepares homemade curative pericos (scrambled eggs with tomato and green onions), arepas (semolina cakes corn) and buñuelos (fried dough) that the whole family sits together to eat. Although it’s set in Colombia, the setting is instantly familiar to Latinos across the Americas.
For Nayeli Calle-Sosa, 37, of East Meadow, mother of a 3-year-old, the healthy portrayal of a Latinx family is uplifting. She notes that the “Encanto” matriarch suffered displacement and loss during the Civil War, and has yet to process her trauma. Calle-Sosa, a social worker whose own parents are Colombian and Peruvian, says: “This film tells the story of the trauma, but the violence is not the center of the story; the healing is the center and the healing goes through relationships.
“Encanto” also connects children to Latino culture.
Inés Yazbek from Ecuador and her husband Rigo Acosta from Honduras came to the United States 20 years ago. Today the couple live in Westbury with their two children, Milton, 9, and Luisa, 5. “My son is completely bilingual,” says Yazbek, 45, a wedding planner. “He’s always liked Hispanic things. But my daughter was pretty indifferent. When we went to see the movie, she turned to me and said in Spanish, ‘Look mami! The braids are just like mine!”” Luisa has been wearing authentic Ecuadorian clothing ever since and nonstop playing with a toy casita and her namesake doll, Luisa, the film’s strong sister. “I tried so hard to pass on our culture to her, but it was the film that transformed her,” Yazbek says.
Katherine Magalhaes, 33, of Old Westbury, says the transformation of her Colombian-Portuguese daughters, aged 4, 6 and 7, was in their relationships with non-Hispanic children. “The girls were so excited to be able to see and share the film and our culture with their friends,” she says.
LI TALKS ABOUT ‘ENCANTO’
Madrigals may not be talking about Bruno, but Latinos on Long Island are talking about “Encanto”.
Dorothy Santana, founder and president of community group Latina Moms Connect, says LMC’s 1,000 followers blew up their Facebook page with posts about it. And not just about their children. The film also strikes a chord with parents. They recognize their own family dynamics in the interplay of characters: the forbidding matriarch, the older sister who carries too many burdens, the constraints of being the perfect daughter.
“The grandmother, this matriarch, is very common in our communities, but also seeing her vulnerability and apologizing for the way she led things; I was really touched by that and how Mirabel forgave her at because of all the hardships the grandmother had been through,” says Santana, whose mother is Colombian.
To continue the conversation, LMC is hosting a live chat on “Encanto” on March 3. The conversation will be led by Dr. Karen Caraballo, a bilingual and bicultural clinical psychologist based in Long Island. Puerto Rican-born Dr. Caraballo will address some of the major undercurrents of the film, such as multigenerational trauma, the importance of representation, migration, acculturation, and mental health. “Latin girls and non-binary Latina girls have the highest rates of suicidal ideation among minority groups,” she says. “It’s so important that they know they belong. This kind of film makes them feel seen, heard and understood. It also gives them a subject to connect with others and strike up a conversation.”
For girls like Maricela, while the film is entertainment, it also offers a view of themselves that their mothers did not have growing up. “My favorite song is when Isabela (the perfect sister) sings ‘What Else Can I Do?'” Maricela says. “She’s embraced her true self and when I sing with my friends, I feel like I can too.”
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Latina Moms Connect will provide a virtual meeting space for all to share their reactions to “Encanto,” thoughts on who you identify with, and what this movie means to you. March 3 at 6:30 p.m. on Zoom; Register online at facebook.com/Latinamomsconnect.