Saturday, December 10, 2022

Tensions at the Dining Table

by Franciss Nikole Elli | January 24, 2022

The colorful casita of a distant encanto nods, shakes, and participates in all of the Madrigal family matters. And it isn’t a surprise how Disney’s new movie set in a Colombian village easily trended among Filipinos. The colorful visuals, silent tensions at the family dining table, and the continuous pressure to “make the family proud” are all-too-familiar scenes. 

Immediately, viewers were quick to jump and claim a character they specifically relate to. Frankly, in a collectivist culture of extended family, it is easy to spot where you stand — the family’s golden star, the outcast, or even the wallflower.

Although the big network composed of your father’s uncles and your cousins from your mother’s side makes everything seem like a small basket of community, “Encanto” implicitly dissects the questions: “How well do we truly know about each other?” and “How well do our families know about us?”

Why are we so close to one another, yet far from each other? Though there are numerous answers to this question, this narrative only focuses on how generational differences affect the dynamics of extended families.

Waiting on a Miracle

Growing up, it is easy to admire your well-performing cousins from a distance. While they get the praise of the family as the “future doctor” or “future lawyer”, life’s easy just as they have it. But not until your own quarter-life crisis sticks in. 

Somehow, you realize that sitting in your bedroom, scrolling for the nth time on social media doesn’t make you “appealing” to the eyes of your older relatives. Your identity immediately shrinks as the family’s wallflower. But more than that, just as the movie puts it creatively, you are the protagonist.

The family’s Mirabel is on a journey to become someone, in hopes to feel validated by the family. Just as the movie’s protagonist is, you too are waiting for a miracle. And sorry to burst your bubble, but there is no miracle that’s going to drop from the generous skies. You have to work for it to become it. 

If at the end of the day, you still don’t become the person you wish to be, always remember Abuela’s message to our protagonist in the movie: “The miracle is not some magic that you’ve got. The miracle is you. Not some gift. Just you.”

Dos Oruguitas

From the opposite end, the unspoken antagonist from the eyes of Mirabel was her Abuela Alma. She is a strict and stern character in the movie who cared about nothing but the Madrigal family’s pride. The plot weaves the narrative for us to hate her too somehow, but not until we reach the climax of the story, explaining how her husband sacrificed his life for his family. That is when you start to understand her.

Perhaps, you are even one of the few who shed tears when you had come to realize where her tough personality came from. Their generation was the pitiful victim of suffocating traditional beliefs and practices. The society that cultivated them was unforgiving, leaving them no choice but to live through the dictates of the time.

It is controversial to say this, but it is the reality. They showed us the “love” as they ideally define it, and we are all victims of vicious generational cycles where traumas are passed on from one generation to the next. 

We Should Talk About Bruno

Every family has a not-so-known secret that every functioning being of the family does not speak about. Maybe it is easier to dismiss family embarrassment than face them. The more these instances are shoved in silence, the heavier the tensions become, especially when the family is gathered together.

Dismissing these “mistakes” becomes a process that stagnates everyone, which can cause the whole family to refuse to grow and learn from previous experiences. However, truthfully, if these instances are discussed as situations to learn lessons from, the more real the family members are to each other. 

“Encanto” is more than just the cumbia beats that remind you of Filipino fiestas. And certainly more than the literal casita that reminds you of your grandparents’ ancestral house. It’s a Disney movie that attempts to crunch generations’ worth of struggles and successes of Latino families. There may be some dull moments that seemed to be movie fillers, but it’s because the creators tried to give everyone the limelight as they exist in a big family like the Madrigals. 

You may be the family’s Mirabel who’s waiting on a miracle, the family’s Bruno which they avoid talking about, or even the generation who fled home in hopes of a brighter future for their children. It doesn’t matter where you stand in your extended family. Your worth is not tied to some achievement or failure. You are worthy of love. The generational differences separate us but the first step toward breaking these barriers is always the biggest win. 

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