When I was a little girl, there were hardly any characters on TV or in movies who looked anything like me. In the '80s, there were lots of adorable little blond child actors; in the '90s, it got a bit better as the popularity of Black sitcoms rose; but brown-skinned Latinas with curly hair were a rare sight.
In fact, I can't think of a TV show or movie from when I was growing up where a main character — or even a central figure — was Latina. Now, I have my own little girl, and I'm happily watching the literal face of entertainment and media evolve as she grows up.
I'm Puerto Rican — born and raised in New Jersey — and although both of my parents are from Puerto Rico, one is white and the other Black. I've always seen the beauty in my mixed features and always adored my culture, but I can't say there weren't times I was disappointed that I would never look like the princess in the movie or that I couldn't find a doll that shared my skin tone. There were certainly times I wished I'd been born with my father's fair skin simply so people wouldn't question my ethnicity so often or so that I'd look "right" in that Halloween costume based on my favorite movie.
I married a biracial man from Fort Lauderdale and, together, we have two incredible, beautiful multiethnic, mixed race kids, who know and love their Latinx culture deeply. While I've always made a concerted effort to buy them toys and books featuring images similar to their own, we still don't see people like us represented on TV or in the movies nearly often enough. That's changing though, and when we do, it makes my heart swell with pride — and honestly, relief — that my kids will hopefully know that our stories (their stories) are worth being told; that they'll grow up knowing that their faces, their curly hair, and their rich, brown complexions belong on screen, too.
When I first got a glimpse of Mirabel, the Colombian main character in Disney's upcoming film Encanto, she took my breath away. She's the lead character in a major motion picture for children, and she has brown skin and a head full of curls and glasses, just like my 5-year-old daughter.
Image Source: Disney
Until now, my daughter has always drawn comparisons to a couple of other beloved Disney characters, whom we of course adore — but now, we have a Latina. Not only that but we have a strong, smart, vocal Latina, who cares about her family and her community, not just some stereotype with a curvy figure and a comically exaggerated accent. We have a role model that little Latinx girls can look up to and see a bit of themselves in.
You see, that's the power of representation. When we see ourselves in mainstream media, we internalize that we are worthy and that we belong. Many of us didn't have that growing up and have dealt with the consequences for years as we've tried to break generational cycles and achieve our goals and dreams. When we see characters like Mirabel — and all of the other racially diverse Colombian characters in Encanto — it lets us know from an early age that we deserve a seat at the table, and that is how progress is made.
Even as an animated movie, it's validating for my daughter to see, and validation builds confidence — and having the confidence to pursue our dreams is life-changing. Some of us have had to fight too hard for it, but seeing ourselves as heroines like Mirabel lets us know that we don't have to change who we are or conform to certain standards in order to be successful.
Image Source: Disney
It's a reminder that we will only enrich our society as a whole, because our culture, our history, and our unique experiences add to what we have to bring to the table, at work or school, in our neighborhoods, and even within our own family units.
So when Disney's Encanto comes out in theaters this Thanksgiving, we'll be there, because I couldn't think of a better way to spend a holiday than getting to show my little Latina princess that movies are made about girls like us, too.
Get excited for Disney's Encanto, now playing only in theaters! Get tickets here.