Encanto was released on Disney+ on Christmas Eve. We held our families and loved ones close as we watched a story unfold that many individuals in the adoption community can relate to—family and belonging.
In Encanto, Mirabel Madrigal embarks on a journey to save her home and family from —quite literally—falling to pieces. When each member of Mirabel’s big, Colombian family comes of age, they inherit a magical gift from their casita— strength, healing, visions, and more. Everyone’s gift is unique. These gifts were considered the miracle that saved the family long before Mirabel was born. The Madrigal family now uses their gifts to serve and strengthen their community. Unfortunately for Mirabel, her gift was never revealed and the magic seems to be fading.
Although the Madrigals don’t have any children who were adopted, a major theme of the story is family. Adoptees in particular may relate to Mirabel’s feelings of being left out in family traditions or customs. No matter how strong the love of an adoptive family is, how healthy communication is upheld within a closed or open adoption, or how seamlessly an adoptee might have transitioned into his or her family—anyone is capable of those lonely feelings.
Consider an international adoptee who enters a home of people who look, sound, and act so differently than those they were born surrounded by. Consider an adoptee from foster care who is unfamiliar with his or her adoptive family’s traditions, habits, and inside jokes. Consider even a domestic adoptee standing in a room full of extended (adoptive) family members who all share genetic physical features and characteristics. Chances are those adoptees may have thought to themselves “Why am I different than my family—what am I missing?”
This child-like perspective is normal—but it doesn’t need to bind adoptees to that feeling of being an outsider. Like Mirabel, adoptees can look within to see how their differences and individuality bring something important to a family that needs strength and diversity to grow.
Birth Parents and Adoptive Parents
In Encanto, Mirabel learns that prior to the Madrigal families earning their magical gifts, Mirabel’s Abuela, Alma Madrigal, suffered through many tragedies. As a new mother of triplets, Alma had to flee her home because of a violent outbreak in her community. Alma’s husband was killed while protecting his family. After which, Alma was left alone to care for her children.
Adoptive parents, too, can face harsh realities long before the adoption process ever starts. Some will suffer through the challenges of fertility problems—whether that is infertility, miscarriages, or the lack of a partner. Some will experience the common heartache of serving within the foster care system. Time and time again foster parents have empathized with the children who enter their home—learning of and acknowledging their experiences while striving to express the physical and emotional nurturing these children stand in need of.
Birth parents inherently face their own challenges: unplanned or unexpected pregnancies, trauma from the adoption process, and the complicated physical and emotional aftermath of placement. Beyond those very adoption-relevant trials are those that others may not understand or consider—navigating social and familial relationships, discovering a true support system through during the hardship, or finding yourself post-placement.
Also worth acknowledging are challenges adoptive and birth parents face that are completely unrelated to their reasonings for choosing adoption. There is no telling how someone’s life experiences play a part in his or her present state. However, vulnerably sharing those experiences when the time is appropriate can strengthen a bond between parent and child.
For Alma and Mirabel, communication opened the door of understanding that alleviated the conflict between the two. Alma even says to her children, “You’re more than just your gift.” The miracle is not the gifts her children were given, but who they are as a family—“the miracle is you.” (My guess is that it is no coincidence that Mirabel’s name sounds so much like the English word: miracle.)
Worth and belonging in your family isn’t based on your talents or physical traits—it’s about who are as a member of a family. This goes for every member of the adoption triad.
Adoption in Colombia
While Encanto was a great movie full of parallels to the adoption experience—it is also a beautiful depiction of Colombia and its culture. The clothing, food, landscape, and music are all true to Colombian traditions and practices. Encanto takes place in a rural Colombian town with authentic architecture and community spirit—which includes celebrations full of food, music, and dancing; colorful artwork and traditional clothing; and a strong loyalty to family and community.