Disney's latest film Encanto beautifully touches on a topic I am so excited to finally see on screen: multigenerational households. The fact is, if you're a child of immigrants or an immigrant yourself, you know that living with extended family isn't out of the ordinary. The story of the Madrigals, the Colombian central family in Encanto, is relevant to so many Latinx families, because even though we love each other, you never really know what is going on inside their hearts and minds. Plus, getting along can be really hard — and finding your individuality can be even harder. You definitely don't get to choose your family, but you do get to choose who you become as a result.
I don't really remember when my paternal grandparents came from Valparaiso, Chile, to live with us. But starting from the age of 3, it was all I ever knew. My mom and dad worked, so my grandparents were tasked with watching my sisters and me after school and during summer vacation. Only now do I realize what a blessing growing up in a multigenerational household really was because it gave me the freedom to be angsty and rebellious, instead of having to help raise my sisters.
Most first-born daughters of immigrants would agree that they had to become like second mothers to their siblings. But since I already had two mothers with my grandmother in the house, I just got to be a kid. My grandparents took the load off my mom and dad, which took the load off me.
Growing up in a household of seven was exactly like you think it would be; everyone piling into the hot van to go to church, big family dinners, novelas as background noise, waiting for the bathroom, and never being on time for anything no matter how hard we tried. We even became a household of eight when my cousin came to live with us my senior year of high school.
If I had to describe the pros and cons of growing up with your parents and grandparents in the same house, it would be pretty much even. Pro: you are never alone and you have four parents. Cons: you are never alone and you have four parents.
Much like Encanto's main character, Mirabel, who feels she must overcompensate because she's the only one in her family without a magical gift, I was also the black sheep of the family. Let's just say, I was super into '80s British alt-rock in middle school, which was not the norm for other 12-year-old Latina kids.
To top it all off, I was a first-gen kid with undiagnosed anxiety, spiritual sensitivity, and ADHD, which to my immigrant parents manifested as "disobedience." For the oldest kid in the family, there are certain expectations about what makes a good daughter: "obedience" and "setting a good example" are at the top of the list — two things I was never really good at. I was too busy trying to understand why I felt so different and why I never fit in.
Being a rebel with four parents under one roof can feel a lot like prison. Luckily, I had my abuelito, who would always cover for me and let me bend the rules. He was the kind of grandpa who always had a caramel or a fun-sized Snickers waiting for me in his jacket pocket. He and I had a special bond I didn't share with anyone else in the family. Looking back, I can see how we don't all get the same versions of our family members. We all have our favorites, our secrets, and we never really know what they're going through — just like they may never know what we are going through. This is a reality that Encanto showcases so well.
Even though sometimes our perceptions of our loved ones aren't reality, we can absolutely figure it out with our own courage to be different and our desire to give back in a way that best serves us, which might not be the exact way that it's expected. Growing up in an intergenerational household gave me options: it allowed me to explore myself, and it gave me the opportunity to learn a lot from my grandparents, which is not something many people have the privilege of doing.
Most importantly, the way my grandparents took care of my sisters and me gave me a different perspective on life. It helped me realize that everyone is just doing their best and that no matter what, love is that magic that endures forever.
Get excited for Disney's Encanto, now playing only in theaters! Get tickets here.