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What We Don’t Talk About: An Intergenerational Look at Encanto

By: Sonia Gomez, MSW, LSW

With Latinx Heritage Month upon us, we often reflect on the progress realized within the Latinx community. One of the most recent successes of Latinx representation and culture is Disney’s Encanto. Encanto needs no lengthy and detailed introduction as it has quickly made its way into the homes of families across South, Central and North America, quite possibly the world.  With its memorable songs written by Latinx’s own Lin-Manuel Miranda and its salient storyline, Encanto has brought parts of the Latinx culture into the mainstream. In addition to catchy songs like, We Don’t Talk About Bruno, Encanto tells an incredibly salient story with themes experienced by many Latinx families such as intergenerational trauma. 

Intergenerational Trauma: What is it?

According to the Office of Institutional Equity at Duke University, intergenerational trauma is a concept developed to help explain years of generational challenges within families (2019). The concept further demonstrates how the effects of a traumatic event in one generation can be passed down to younger generations. In addition, it claims that the effects of intergenerational trauma can also include coping mechanisms in that the ways that previous generations coped with a trauma can also be passed down from generation to generation. 

In Encanto, the matriarch of the family, Abuela suffers a horrific trauma when she is forced to migrate to a safer area with her husband and three children. During the journey, her husband is killed and she is left to raise her three children on her own. Three generations later, Abuela becomes a great example of what it can look like to function while using unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Common Ways of Coping with Intergenerational Trauma

When a traumatic event happens, our bodies will enter and may remain stuck in survival mode as well as function using mechanisms considered unhealthy in the long run. Two common coping mechanisms identified as being used to survive and cope with a traumatic event are denial and minimizing. 

Denial is a refusal to acknowledge that the trauma even happened in the first place (2019). This is often done as a way to accomplish our daily duties and obligations. If we were to stop and acknowledge the trauma it may be too overwhelming for us to continue to function. Similarly, minimizing is when we ignore the actual impact of the traumatic event and make it seem as though it is smaller than it actually is (2019). 

Coping mechanisms such as denial and minimizing are prevalent in Encanto’s storyline. After experiencing multiple traumatic events, Abuela refused to acknowledge the trauma by talking about it and passed that way of coping down to the younger generations.  This very theme is the main message behind the movie’s popular song, We Don’t Talk About Bruno. 

 

What Do We Do Instead?

 We talk about it; we find a trauma-informed therapist who can create an emotionally safe space and we process the incredibly overwhelming events. Talking about our past traumas with a professional can be incredibly healing. It can help us make thoughtful connections about the effects past traumas have had on us and can help us break generational patterns. 

Source: Office for Institutional Equity. Intergenerational Trauma: 6 Ways It Affects Families | Office for Institutional Equity. (2019). Retrieved August 2022, from https://oie.duke.edu/inter-generational-trauma-6-ways-it-affects-families