By Isabel Morales
Disney’s new movie release, Encanto, is a film that remarkably depicts Colombian culture with captivating imagery and vibrant music. It reflects details of Colombia that anyone can enjoy, ranging from the mountainous setting with wax palms to the costumes with traditional “vueltiao” hats. The film also shows that Colombia is a country that cannot be described in a general way. It shows the complexity of Colombia’s culture through its diverse people, its biodiversity, and its societal challenges. Though there are details that most people can appreciate regarding its culture, there are subtle elements included in the movie that show a reality of Colombia that are harder to pick up on. One of the main elements added to the plot is the reflection of forced displacement—a familiar phenomenon for most Colombians.
Encanto is centered around the Madrigals, a family living in a magical house and town in Colombia called “the Encanto.” The family arrived at the house after the family’s grandmother, Abuela Alma, was forced to flee her home with her three children. As she was fleeing, Abuela Alma crossed Caño Cristales, a famous river in Colombia, and was granted a miracle. The miracle provided her with a magical house and gave each child in the family a unique power, except for the main character, Mirabel. What is seen to many as a simple dramatic addition to the movie’s plot, is actually a culturally specific generational trauma of displacement. Throughout the movie, Abuela Alma repeats “we can’t lose our home” as the magic surrounding “the Encanto,” and the Madrigals, begins to disappear (Hans, 2021). This theme is reflective of the struggle that millions of Colombians have experienced and continue to experience.
Colombia’s history has been characterized by forced land appropriation, especially from peasant, Indigenous, and Afro-descendant communities. The first phase of large-scale displacement occurred in the 1950s during La Violencia—a period of violent political conflict between 1948 and 1958, that acted as a precursor for many challenges that Colombia faces today (Peace Brigades International Colombia, 2010). Although it began as a popular uprising, La Violencia was carried out by liberal and conservative landowning groups that fought against each other to advance their political and economic interests, primarily affecting those in rural areas (JFC, 2018). With ongoing violence, guerilla groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) formed in the 1960s, further increasing civil conflict. Though Colombia’s history is long and complex, the combination of the internal armed conflict, drug trafficking, territorial disputes, and generalized violence caused the forced displacement of over eight million Colombians—a phenomenon that continues today under different circumstances (Peace Brigades International Colombia, 2010). As a result, Abuela Alma’s trauma with her family’s displacement in Encanto, is a feeling that many Colombians can relate to, even if it has not affected them directly. For instance, the internal conflict in the fifties affected both my grandmothers and their families when they were growing up.
My grandmother on my father’s side lived in a small town called Pensilvania. This town is in the department of Caldas, Colombia, whose capital is Manizales. At the time, Caldas was a highly conservative department, and my grandmother’s father, or my great-grandfather, was a liberal. As a result, my grandmother’s family always had issues with the conservatives living in that area. However, the assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitán turned my great-grandfather's issues into death threats. Gaitán was a popular left-wing Colombian politician who was likely to become president but was assassinated in 1948. His assassination led to a popular uprising called the Bogotazo—an event seen as the starting spark of La Violencia (Duignan, n.d.). Due to increased violence throughout the country, my grandmother and her family decided to migrate to Pereira, Risaralda. They made this decision because Pereira was known to be the “city without doors” as it received many liberal migrants that were threatened in their hometowns during that period. In addition, it was the most liberal city in the Eje Cafetero (Coffee Region) (Acevedo, n.d.).
The decision to move to Pereira was also the choice that my grandmother’s family on my mother’s side made. My grandmother lived in a town called Caramanta, located in the department of Antioquia, whose capital is Medellín. Caramanta was also a very conservative and polarized town, and my grandmother’s family was liberal. On many occasions, the conservatives would shoot the windows and doors of my grandmother’s house, forcing her and her family to sleep on the floor to avoid being shot at. One day, my great-grandmother took her three children, like Abuela Alma in the movie, and left their house. My great-grandmother acted as if they were going to church to avoid being caught, and walked more than four hours to get on a “chiva” (a traditional bus in rural Colombia) that took them to a nearby town. Then, they took a public bus towards Pereira, Risaralda and started a new life there.
My family was lucky enough to establish themselves in one place after they migrated. Yet, there are millions of families in Colombia that continue with the fear of having to migrate and leave their home. What makes the quote “we can’t lose our home again” so profound, is not only that many Colombians can relate to it, but that this phenomenon continues to happen. However, though Encanto’s plot emerges from a rather dire situation, most of the film shows that Colombia is not just its forced displacement and cannot be described in a general way. It shows that Colombia is also its hardworking and diverse people, its lively music, its biodiversity, and its Encanto (Charm).
Acevedo, A. (n.d.). Pereira al Reencuentro de su Historia [Pereira, a Reunion with Its History]. Banco de la República de Colombia. https://www.banrepcultural.org/biblioteca-virtual/credencial-historia/numero-236/pereira-al-reencuentro-de-su-historia
Duignan, B. (n.d.). Jorge Eliécer Gaitán | Colombian politician. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jorge-Eliecer-Gaitan
Hans, S. (2021, November 27). Encanto review – Disney musical casts its spell with a little help from Lin-Manuel Miranda. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2021/nov/27/encanto-review-disney-musical-animation-lin-manuel-miranda
JFC. (2018, February 18). Colombian Armed Conflict. Justice For Colombia. https://justiceforcolombia.org/about-colombia/colombian-armed-conflict/#Root%20Causes
Peace Brigades International Colombia. (2010, January). Forced Displacement in Colombia: A Crime and a Humanitarian Tragedy. Peace Brigades. https://www.peacebrigades.org/fileadmin/user_files/projects/colombia/files/colomPBIa/100210_boletin_desplazamiento_2010_ENGLISH.pdf