Let’s Talk about Bruno… and Intergenerational Trauma

This is a picture of Valle de Cocora; the location the movie is suspected to be set.

I first learned about Encanto when I saw my children watching it. I walked in on ” We Don’t Talk About Bruno, ” and was impressed at how catchy and fun the song was. My interest for the movie peaked further as my IG exploded with people doing covers and Tic Toks of their favorite songs. However, it wasn’t until a family member brought something to my attention that I finally decided to watch the film myself. She told me that people were doing videos and pieces about the psychological aspects of the movie. I listened to about 10 seconds of a video and thought it was a little heavy for a Disney movie. I finally watched the movie myself and was instantly inspired to write my own conceptualization of the film.

The theme that stood out to me as I watched the movie was intergenerational trauma. First, we should define trauma and Intergenerational Trauma. Trauma is defined by the APA Dictionary of Psychology as,” any disturbing experience that results in significant fear, helplessness, dissociation, confusion, or other disruptive feelings intense enough to have a long-lasting negative effect on a person’s attitudes, behavior, and other aspects of functioning.” Intergenerational Trauma is defined by the APA Dictionary of Psychology as “a phenomenon in which the descendants of a person who has experienced a terrifying event show adverse emotional and behavioral reactions to the event that are similar to those of the person himself or herself.” I like to think of traumas as Traumas and traumas. Traumas with an uppercase “T” would be the events that are readily identified as trauma: rape, war, abuse. Traumas with a lowercase “t” would be what most people identify as “micro-aggressions.” Those are the traumas that we overlook, but have a cumulative effect on our well being. Common examples are cumulative discriminations, exclusions, and prejudices that a person experiences because of some aspect of their being. In Encanto, the characters not only personify the different types of traumas, but the different ways in which these traumas manifest in people and their descendents. Although there are many characters in the movie, I will highlight the key characters that best highlight how trauma is passed down.

*** There are many spoilers below.***

Abuela Alma- The generations directly affected by the trauma

We first see Abuela Alma, Alma Madrigal, in her youth as her and the other townspeople are violently displaced from their homes. She is a young mother of triplets and tragically loses her husband as he tried to protect his family and townspeople from oppressors at their heels. It is at that time that Alma is bestowed the miracle of Encanto, a candle that protected the people and gave magical gifts to the subsequent members of the Madrigal family. Alma would therefore be part of the first generations to have personally experienced the direct trauma of being violently displaced from their homes. Their land was ravaged, their homes were destroyed, and their loved ones were murdered before their eyes. The movie fast forwards to Alma becoming Abuela Alma. We don’t get to see her hardships of raising triplets on her own, the sleepless nights of worrying if oppression would return, and the incessant grief of losing the love of her life. We see her as a grandmother; stern, cold, obsessed with perfection, and devaluing of her family members that fall short of her new standards for the Madrigal family. She is the poster child of “hurt people, hurt people.” She wasn’t the typical Disney villain, but she served as the villain archetype. She tore down family members, ostracized others, and weighed down the rest with oppressive expectations. Ironically, all of this was in the guise of wanting to protect her family and home. Sadly, her intentions were likely that, but the severe trauma she endured led her to act in survival mode at all times. Over time, she idolized perfection and power. She was blinded from acting as if she remembered that the miracle presented itself because of her husband’s sacrificial love for his family and community.

Bruno- The first generations after the trauma, but not directly affected

Bruno, Julietta, and Pepe were Alma’s triplets. When the Madrigal family received the Encanto, they received a magical home and the triplets were the first generation to receive magical powers. It appears that their powers functioned as mechanisms for survival. Pepe has the power of controlling the weather. Although she’s anxious and tempered, her lability provides the land with ample rain for lush produce. Julietta has the power of healing through tasty treats. Bruno’s magical power was the ability to see into the future. Of all the powers, it appears his was as much of a function of survival as it was for fear. Unfortunately, many of Bruno’s visions were perceived as negative. When Bruno told you something would happen, it would happen. Unfortunately, Bruno was known for his negative visions. The irony is that many people came to Bruno for visions, so it’s unclear if he was getting kicks out of giving bad news or servicing people that were already somewhat aware that a negative outcome was probable. Nevertheless, Bruno eventually mysteriously disappeared. The response was to never talk about Bruno. Fear begets fear and horrific things happen as a response. It was perpetuated over time that Bruno had ill will towards his family and community. Even the mention of Bruno soon became associated with a negative outcome. Ironically, Bruno retreated into the walls of his home because he wanted to protect his niece and still be close to his family. It cannot be ignored that Bruno was safe from alienation until he saw a vision that had the house and community at risk. People would do anything to avoid their trauma; even ostracize a child that they once loved. It hurt me so much to think that Bruno was one of those triplets that Papa Madrigal risked his life for. People in Bruno’s generation are typically indirectly traumatized by hearing about the previous traumas of their people and having their own apprehension to that pain returning. Moreover, these generations , like Bruno, can suffer their own trauma because of the continued fear and pain that was perpetuated by events of the past. It’s not uncommon for fear and trauma to manifest in a way in people that looks almost identical to if the person experienced the trauma themselves. These generations, like the ones prior, may be prone to anxiety, rage, depression, and mood instability. Unfortunately, this continues into the following generations, but may manifest somewhat differently.

Mirabel- Generations far enough to forget the trauma, yet still affected

As the next generation of the Madrigal family grows and are old enough to get their own powers, we start to see powers that are manifestations of what “making it” looks like. Generations later, this family has assumed status and power in the community. The family must appear perfect (Isabel’s power), strong( Luisa’s power), knowledgeable ( Delores’ power), and adaptable ( Camillo’s power). The powers in this generation emphasize that the Madrigal family is amazing and unstoppable. That is, until Mirabel does not get a power. This poor girl personifies flaw in the family. No matter what she does, it is perceived that she’s doing something wrong. It appears that her mere existence is offensive to Abeula Alma and a threat to her security. Once again, like Bruno, Mirabel serves as a reminder that pain and trauma can return. Everything is not better, no matter how lovely everything appears. Mirabel and her peers do not seem to know much about the trauma that the previous generations endured. Nevertheless, they experience their own traumas that are loosely related to past pains. Luisa and Isabel are crushed by the pressure that is put on them to be “perfect” and personify that the old traumas will not return. Mirabel, despite not having a power, is crushed by feeling inadequate. Interestingly, constant feelings of inadequacy and avoidance of inadequacy is at the root of what the all the Madrigal sisters endure. Overtime, you see that the “t” traumas of never feeling adequate turned into “T” for Mirabel. It is not explicit in the film, but Mirabel has some tendencies of self-harm and suicidality as evidenced by the mysterious cut on her hand and her disregard for her life as she’s on the roof. Her safety and life are not as important to her as other things. This is another way in which trauma can manifest itself in any generation. We commonly associate reactions to trauma with PTSD. Even in the scheme of PTSD, most people think about the symptoms of avoidance, hyper-vigilance, and nightmares. However, there are other manifestations of trauma such as self-harm, destructive behaviors, and suicidal tendencies. Eventually, we all appreciate that Mirabel did have a power. Her power was to reunite and encourage the family through their pains. She was also the first to call out the origin of the the discourse that was tearing apart the home and family. That origin was not Abuela Alma, but the pain, fear, and inner turmoil that still ravished the family through trauma.

The house and the Townspeople- Structures and institutions affected by Intergenerational Trauma.

The Madrigal family is a micro example of a phenomenon that occurs over many generations and across many peoples. Thus, there are two other aspects of intergenerational trauma that should not be ignored. The above example zeros in on one particular family, but patterns of intergenerational trauma ravish whole communities through destroying the community a family at a time. Whether that trauma be war, slavery, trafficking, drug epidemics, or pandemics; the turmoil that ensues from those initial events destroy the structure of family. Just like the movie, it takes work to rebuild the family structure in these communities. Moreover, although the Madrigal family’s story was isolated in the movie and in this blog, the trauma was felt throughout the community. As highlighted above, trauma can be felt directly, felt through second hand information, or felt through the downward affects of other people’s trauma. You can see that a similar phenomenon was happening in the townspeople. They were anxious and constantly checking in that things were fine with the house, their symbol of hope and deliverance from past traumas. Nevertheless, the people were also a nidus of hope themselves through coming together to rebuild what they loss over time.

This blog is an oversimplification of a larger topic that affects the sociological, economical, and psychological structures that are at play in society. Nevertheless, I hope this was a fun introduction to a heavy psychological concept. I’m hoping Encanto wins Best Animated Feature tonight. If you haven’t seen the movie, please do and share your ideas.

I want to give a shout out to Kassandra for inspiring me to write this blog and giving me great feedback. I also want to thank my Mom, Ashley, and Bianca for taking a look at this before publishing.

One thought on “Let’s Talk about Bruno… and Intergenerational Trauma

  1. This was spot on! I loved the movie and immediately noticed all the trauma and personalities. I encouraged all my siblings to watch it and we talked about which character we identified with and who others thought we were. It was due opening that who i thought i was (Luisa) wasn’t who my siblings perceived me to be (Dolores). It opened up conversations about our coping mechanisms, our struggles and ways we could support each other more (especially tied to who we perceive ourselves to be). Overall such a brilliant movie with such rich meaning.

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