The first time I saw the preview for Dinsey’s new movie, Encanto, my eyes filled with tears. They were mostly happy tears. Superficially, I had just gotten a haircut that I did not love, but when I saw Mirabel Madrigal rocking a similar length and style, it made me feel like I could manage with my hair too.
On a deeper level, as an adoptee with a very limited birth story which includes a Mexican biological parent, having grown up on the mission field in South America, the layers of racial and cultural connection overwhelmed me. In just a few scenes, I was hooked and couldn’t wait to watch it.
I’ve watched Encanto seven times so far, and Andrew and I plan to watch again tonight and this weekend. Andrew said one of the reasons he loves to watch it is remembering that first emotional reaction to the preview. I like to watch it because Mirabel and her funny awkwardness and journey toward self-discovery and self-knowing resonate with me.
I had a wonderful childhood, with the best parents and sisters a person could ask for. I loved growing up in Brazil, having family friends who would bring over bushels of bounty from their mango trees, snackeries where you could get a FRESHLY squeezed orange juice and a coxinha (coh- sheen-yah) which is a tear drop shaped flour paste filled with chicken, olives and cheese and then breaded and deep fried.
I remember knowing from an early age that I was born in Texas and that I had a Mexican biological heritage. I had a stuffed monkey named Smirnish, because I couldn’t say “Spanish,” and Adopted and Loved Forever was a staple of bedtime reading.
My first watch of Encanto directly coincided with the launch of my first Spanish language grief support group.
Providing grief support in a heart language that carries a deep weight for you, as it turns out, will prickle all sorts of things you’d sworn had been CPE’d (clinical pastoral education interpersonal relationship discussion time and individual supervision) already.
Watching Encanto, watching Mirabel run into a post while talking to someone and not watching where she was going – something I have literally done myself – seeing Camilo do the finger snap that in Latin America means “wow!”, and of course, Chispi the Capybara’s epic side eye felt like coming home to myself, visiting dear friends in Brazil, reliving my first bite of Chilaquiles on a paper plate, while I sat on the concrete under a gorgeous magenta flower just outside the pavilion at the Church of Christ in El Zorillo.
Leading Spanish grief group has felt like working through trying not to come home to myself because I love my adopted life and am so grateful (read: I overfunction to spare feelings or the idea of feelings, or the possibility of someone having feelings that I might possibly wound), saying goodbye to life in Brazil, and my summers living as an itinerant interpreter in Mexico with Baja Missions.
When I was little, our family made friends with another family with a daughter who was my age. Her name was Manuela. I remember being so irritated at my parents for naming me Sara when Manuela was right there.
As I was thinking through racial identity exploration and what that means or looks like for me, as I was pondering birth stories and why they feel so important to have, I realized that I’ve always been Sara, not Manuela, for a reason, for these whole 38 years, and I’m grateful.
Grateful for my family, grateful for growing up in a different culture, grateful for a blood heritage that I feel in my bones and tastebuds, grateful for all the things that make me a Sara, this Sara.
So, like the mariposas of Encanto, I soar to build my own adventurous future, while incorporating all the parts of me into this life that I enjoy.