Growing up as a curly-haired brunette kid in Puerto Rico, I never really saw lead characters and heroines on screen who looked like me or spoke like me. I came to believe that princesses only existed in European countries. As a kid, my favorite Disney character was Cinderella — I always aspired to have the same shade of blond in my hair.
But as I entered adulthood, Disney began telling the stories that I craved to see as a kid. And they sucked me right back in. The upcoming film Encanto, which comes out Nov. 24, definitely pulls at my heartstrings as it focuses on the dynamic of family. But above all, I finally get to see a lead character who looks just like me.
Mirabel, a 15-year-old Colombian girl surrounded by a huge family, has short curly hair, thick eyebrows, round glasses, and a short stature. Same. But it isn’t just her appearance that made me feel seen — it’s her heart, her attitude, and her relationship with her family.
I grew up essentially as an only child — my brother was 15 years older than me and was out of the house before I was a worthy opponent — so I can’t really say I identify with sibling rivalry as much as Mirabel. But similar to Mirabel and her sisters, our parents raised each of us differently. Because my brother was the firstborn, he pretty much got to do anything he wanted, while I was expected to be a certain way, meaning my parents wanted me to become a doctor and be in charge of the family’s finances once they grew older. In the same way, Mirabel’s sister Luisa is expected to be strong and always keep it together (like me), while Mirabel is allowed a little more leeway (like my brother).
However, it is the relationship with her parents that really touched me. Mirabel, who is the only family member without a magical gift, tends to overcompensate. She doesn’t feel as special as her sisters, who each have their own unique gift. But in her mother’s eyes, she’s far from it. She’s perfect, no matter her self-image. My mom and I have a very similar relationship.
Growing up in the early 2000s, my self-image wasn’t the best, and I had to work hard to accept myself as I am. My mom sees beyond that. She tells me constantly how amazing I am, how I’m the best daughter she could have, and how I should be happy with the way I look, because there’s nothing wrong with me. She’s affectionate and caring, and she shows her love through her food, just like Mirabel’s mom, Julieta. Her mother’s gift is that of healing through the food she lovingly cooks for her family. That’s my mom in a nutshell. She will always be there to offer words of encouragement and a heaping plate of warm food — arroz con habichuelas, in my case.
My dad, on the other hand, is the quirky one, just like Mirabel’s dad, Agustín. When I was just 6 years old, my dad retired from his government job so he could spend plenty of time with me, something he sadly didn’t get to do with my brother. He was always there to rescue me. He’s the person who always expected the best out of me but only wanted my happiness in the end.
On top of it all, Encanto really gets it right because it accurately portrays how diverse Latinx families actually are. Despite having the same last names, my family and I resemble each other but don’t look exactly alike. My dad is Black with jet-black hair and towers over us, while my mom is 5’3″ with pale skin and brunette hair. My brother and I are a mix of traits, just like our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Family pictures range from some cousins who have green eyes and blond hair to others who are the proud owners of tight curls and wide noses.
Disney’s Encanto shows that a family table will have people of all skin colors, all hair textures, and all heights. Seeing the dark-skinned sisters with straight hair sitting next to their light-skinned sibling with tight curls really made my chest tight with pride. Because for once, I saw my family and me reflected on the big screen.
Watch Disney’s Encanto trailer here.
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