Encanto: The Illustration of the Filipino Intergenerational Trauma

I will never be good enough for you, will I? – Mirabel (Encanto, 2021)

Filipino families are known for their strict compliance with tradition, and one of these is the value of family. Aside from being an Asian country that has a natural sense of excelling, the influence of Spanish culture also affects how we Filipinos give importance on how what our family has to see on us.

Growing up in a family where being a golden child is a must, I always see myself covered with pretensions and being masked with specific emotions. I am the growing branch of two towering trees that have lots of fruits with them. The first tree has fruits of intelligence and strength while the other has fruits of wise mind and skillful hands. And these two trees are also branches of even more fruitful trees, where the first pair has fruits of incomparable abilities and the other one has fruits of pure kindness and benevolence. 

Watching Encanto, a Disney animated film, multiple times now made me relate myself to each of the characters and how they have to experience the intergenerational trauma I had to face too. A film where each scene, each movement, and each line stabs me and makes me feel every emotion it transports to my heart. As much as I just want to enjoy the last song syndrome-worthy song and dance along with its beat, the film made me see more of the perpetuation of intergenerational trauma up until this time.

Alma Madrigal/Abuela is the head of the family and has the responsibility of keeping the light on the candle that gives the gift of superhuman abilities to the Madrigals. The community relies too much on them and it obliges them to make all things work perfectly. Her huge responsibility is passed on to her triplets- Julieta, Pepa, and Bruno. Each of her triplets has a bigger piece to fill in the community for they keep it moving. Julieta is responsible for people of the community health. Her gift of healing through her cooking is a tough responsibility to keep everyone alive and healthy. She is forbidden to feel tired of cooking because it will greatly affect the mobility of the people in the community. Pepa on the other hand has the gift to control the weather with her feelings. When she’s sad, the sky will be gloomy. When she’s happy, the sun will be bright. When she cries, it will rain. When she’s anxious, thunder comes along with it. The pressure to always be happy is a forever responsibility to not ruin the emotion of people in the community. Lastly, Bruno who has the gift of prophecies. This guy can see your future and most of the time, his ability is being antagonized. Everyone fears the gift that leads him to hide. Imagine how huge the responsibility and pressure these second-generation Madrigals have to face at an early age. A kid who just recently knew that he or she possesses power makes him or her act perfectly without mistake. The community’s eye focuses on them for their mother set a perfect impression of excellence.

Back then, I can still remember how I can’t fully enjoy playing with my neighbors. Unlike me, they are allowed to play up until 6 in the evening or before their dinner time but in my case, I have to come home by 4 in the afternoon for I have to be with my mother so that she can teach me how to write legibly, how to read fast, and how to identify things at the age of 4. Ever since, like the second generation of Madrigal, I knew that at a very young age, I need to follow in my parent’s footsteps. I have to be careful of each of the eyes that surrounds me for I should be the brilliant kid my parents boasting to their friends. Like the second-generation Madrigal, I was pressured to be perfect. Now that I am grown up, I am a Bruno who still hides and can’t do things that I dreamed of myself to be. I can’t come out to my box for they see me boxed into their vision. I am Julieta who can’t be tired of doing things that my parents have been accustomed to. There must be no sign of losing interest in the things they think I’m good at. I am Pepa who always needs to be presentable and be okay at all times in front of the pool people who sees the only bright sun in me.

The intergenerational trauma never stops as these second-generation Madrigals have their children. First is Isabela who has the gift to grow flowers and plants. She is the golden kid that reflects perfection in all aspects. Being the eldest, the responsibility to always do things right, be a role model, and always be perfect is her biggest task. The pressure of being the pattern she has to live is something that doesn’t require her to make mistakes and imperfections. Next is Luisa who has the gift of super-strength. She is expected to always feel strong and be a one-call-away Madrigal to lift everything and put them into the right places. Any weight of things must be easily handled by her- no struggles. She is also physically and emotionally showing a resilient facade just to please her family and the community. Her strength should always be present and Luisa can never show weakness- any sweat and any tears. There is also Dolores who has the gift of superhuman hearing that gives her the responsibility to be wiser in spilling what she hears to prevent commotion in the community. She lived up to the pressure of perfection her cousin Isabela has. We also have Camilo who has the gift of shape-shifting. His gift is helping the community when they need someone to substitute them. It also gives entertainment to people with his theatrical tricks and banters. Imagine the feeling of being only meaningful and useful when you are not you. The youngest of them all, Antonio who has the gift of talking to animals. His ability helps the community and the animal kingdom in good harmony. 

In my teenage years, I can attest that I needed to be Isabela. I am afraid of making mistakes. All must be proper and everything must come into plans. My parents only see the excellence and the recognition from people around us. They always remind me to do ‘this’ and not ‘that’. In short, like Isabela, I am molded to be the pattern. With this, I am forced to show Luisa in me. I can’t cry, I can’t be weak, and I can’t show them my low moments. I just have to be the mighty son who is always present in all events and competitions I am eligible for. If you think that I am the golden child, comparisons are still behind me. When I am only with my parents, phrases such as ‘bakit si ganito’, ‘buti pa si gan’yan’, or ‘kung si ganito kaya bakit ikaw hindi’ throws the pulling up of chair they do when they talk to other people. I have to be Dolores who hears things and lives up to the comparisons but is careful to speak up to keep everything in a good move. I am transformed like Camilo into someone else just to have the acceptance and praise we need. Like the animal friends of Antonio, only my friends can converse to the real me for I am boxed to what my family wants me to be

In the film, not everyone has a gift. That Madrigal who didn’t receive one is Mirabel. Because of the impairment of her to a gift of magic or ability, she thrives so hard to contribute and put herself into the picture. She is not at fault why she didn’t have a gift but she has the biggest pressure to show the community that she has something else to offer. It may not be superhuman ability but the presence she has is enough. Sometimes, I just wished I am Mirabel, a person whom they don’t have a lot of expectations to carry. Someone who just does his thing and contributes without being measured but I never wanted the pressure she receives because she lacks superhuman ability. 

I will never be good enough for you, will I? – Mirabel (Encanto, 2021). This line hits me hard. I’ve questioned myself, when will I be good enough for them? Maybe it will take me a long time to figure the answer to this but you know what, recently I see myself being Mirabel. 

In the resolution part of the film, Mirabel’s courage to question Abuela’s thinking and confront her for making them feel that they are not enough in spite of her cousins’ superhuman ability slightly reflects what I’ve become now. I know I am still expected to be the golden kid but now, I have the voice like Maribel to say what I want and insist to do what I can. Intergenerational trauma indeed lived up in me-still some sort of it-but I’ve learned to stand up for my dreams and aspiration. Now, I am pursuing the thing I like; the things I think I am good at. I may not have been fully detached myself to the accustomed version my parents had raised but at least I am slowly letting out the full-blown Mirabel in me.

The animated film Encanto is an eye-opener on how we still perpetuate a mentality that throws pressure on the succeeding generation. A mentality where we force the next generation to walk in the same path we walked through or to fit into the sockets that they are not made for. This animated film also showed us how we can break it. Encanto is a loud call to future parents that we don’t need to mold the next generation to the same pattern we had. It is now the time to break the thread of intergenerational trauma. It is now the time to make a difference. 

We’ve learned a lot from Encanto and the greatest thing is to do something with the lessons we’ve learned.  – John Leslie P. Layug (Intern)

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