Waiting on a Confession: Generational Trauma With Encanto’s Abuela  


By Leila Baez / Matthew staff || Edited by Giulia Leo & Ilenia Reale

There are cracks in the Casita. The miracle is dying. It is a broken home. There are moments where a single apology at the end of a Disney ballad simply is not good enough. The Madrigal family seems to take Abuela Alma’s short apology as something good enough to make up for over half a century of forced perfectionism and banishment of anything that did not meet her standard, including her own son and nearly including her youngest granddaughter. She lashes out at the family, telling them to think of the family. Agustin, Mirabel’s father, is the only one besides Mirabel who stands his ground. He, being married into the family, tells her upfront that he was thinking of his daughter. Abuela’s response, rather than addressing the family, is stating her real motivation.  

“We cannot lose our home again!” 

To Abuela, the house is the miracle, not her own family. She prioritizes the image of the family without a second thought about the actual family and their experiences or how she has imposed her trauma onto them, creating and compounding the trauma each generation experiences. She passed it onto her three children, those three children passed her trauma and their own onto their children, and thus the most current generation has two extra loads of trauma compounding their own, none of which they wanted or asked for. However, Abuela does not care as long as the image and illusion of perfection remains.  

Toxic perfectionism in Latin families, minority families, is an issue. They often create or contribute to the problems they are trying to stop or solve. They have a lot of issues but want to pretend that they don’t. Abuela only thinks of “the family” as the “encanto” but never as a family. Latin families, elders especially, have almost no filter and want everything to go exactly as they believe perfection to be. They lock into their sense of what is right and acceptable. They try their hardest to pass these ideals and pressures down to the newer generations. There are always children who are talked about more and are celebrated versus those who are rarely brought up and pushed to the side. 

There is speculation that the sole purpose of Antonio being born was to prove that the “magic is still strong” in the Madrigal family, that Abuela instructed Pepa, her own child, to have a third child not out of Pepa’s desire, but to save face.  

The Madrigal family trauma is revealed through song. Alma and Pedro fall in love, marry, and have triplets, but must flee their home with the rest of the town in order to survive. As they partake in mass exodus, men on horses chase them. Alma, Pedro, and other refugees cross a river, but Pedro turns back to buy them time. He is killed in the river while Alma watches, causing Alma to go into a fit of grief, holding her babies in one arm, with a candle in the other, falling to the ground. This candle became the Encanto candle, and it may be the candle Alma and Pedro held when they were married. When Alma falls, magic shoots out from it, blasting away aggressors and forming a mountainous refuge, as well as Casita, for herself and the others. 

In this moment, the Madrigal family is established as the gifted family, the ones to look up to, the ones who will protect the people if a situation like the invasion leading to the mass exodus were to happen again. This solidified Alma’s place as the head of the family and, consequently, of the town. During Dos Oruguitas, when Abuela is walking by each member of the family and their door, Abuela’s focus is on the candle, everyone else’s focus is on straightening up, looking ahead, avoiding Abuela’s gaze. 

Something good and healthy can become twisted and corrupted over time. The gifts of weather manipulation, visions, healing through food, superhuman hearing, nature and plant creation, superhuman strength, shapeshifting, and even the ability to talk to animals, are all gifts that help the town. These gifts, along with the mountainous barrier from the outside world, work to protect everyone. They are there to help, not to be helped. Their weaknesses and flaws are not allowed to be seen. When Mirabel makes handmade crafts, Abuela addresses her, stating that, although Mirabel wants to help, “the best way for some of us to help is to step aside.”  

During Antonio’s miracle ceremony, Abuela congratulates him, calling his ability a gift as special as him, declaring the night a perfect one. Abuela gathers everyone for the perfect picture, excluding Mirabel. Not having a gift consequently makes her not special while having the “wrong” gift makes Bruno an antagonist. Bruno’s vision is that the house would fall apart and, instead of listening, the family shamed him, pushed him away, and exiled him. Instead of leaving, he stayed between the walls, watching over them in the only way he believed he could without burdening them. 

Bruno tells Mirabel, “My gift wasn’t helping the family, but I love my family.” 

Who he is doesn’t fit the image of the family, but he loves his family.  

Luisa Madrigal seems proud of her strength and many accomplishments, happy even, but underneath the surface she has been crumbling for years. When Mirabel manages a full conversation with Luisa, she finds out what has been going on and how much Luisa has suffered in silence. Abuela’s only response is to berate and command her.  

“Whatever you’re doing, stop doing it.” 

The eldest sister of Mirabel, the golden child of the Madrigals, Isabella, is expected to be as delicate as a flower. She is pretty and perfect, but malleable to Abuela’s desires. She has no freedom. Isabella shows fear at the idea of marriage and five children with a man she didn’t love, but is overshadowed by Abuela’s excitement for a new generation of perfect children. Isabella’s children were expected to have gifts. While arguing with Mirabel, she confesses.  

“Abuela was happy. The family was happy.”  

“I never wanted to marry him, I was doing it for the family!”  

This points to how the family was only ever good or perfect if Abuela thought so, not what anyone else believed. After Mirabel and Isabella reconcile and finally show each other who they are, who they wanted to be versus what Abuela has made them, Abuela storms in. Mirabel assures her that everything was going to be alright only to be berated by Abuela. Mirabel is not only blamed for the “mess” created by Isabella being herself, the sentiment causing Isabella to slump and slink away into the corner in an attempt to hide from Abuela’s fury, but Abuela goes on to blame Mirabel for everything that has ever gone wrong in the family.  

“You have to stop Mirabel! The cracks started with you. Bruno left because of you. Luisa’s losing her powers, Isabella’s out of control, because of you! I don’t know why you weren’t given a gift, but it is not an excuse for you to hurt this family!”  

Mirabel, finally feeling the weight of Abuela’s strong disapproval of her, replies with the hard realized truth. 

“I will never be good enough for you, will I?”  

As Mirabel continues, Abuela looks at her with rage and disgust, heaving like an angry bull.  

“No matter how hard I try, no matter how hard any of us tries. Luisa will never be strong enough, Isabella won’t be perfect enough, Bruno left our family because you only saw the worst in him!”  

Abuela roars in response, “Bruno didn’t care about this family!”  

Mirabel cuts her off and continues telling her like it is.  

“He loves this family! I love this family! We all love this family! You are the one that doesn’t care! You are the one breaking our home! The miracle is dying because of you!”  

This causes both herself and Abuela to recoil in shock and the last crack that breaks Casita forms, physically separating the two and coursing through Casita and even the main road of the town.  

By the end of Dos Oruguitas, Mirabel witnesses the visions of the past and empathizes with her. Abuela laments how she thought she would have a different life and be a different woman, and how the family is broken because of her, finally admitting Mirabel’s innocence. 

Mirabel proceeds to do what she and the rest of the family have done the entire movie by apologizing, reassuring Abuela that nothing is wrong with her, that she is the reason all is good in the world, and that nothing is broken and everything is as it should be. Most people recognize this moment as the grand reconciliation even though Abuela’s single line apology, versus the entire family apologizing to Abuela for no reason, falls flat.