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The Encanto of Latin Representation in Media

We don’t talk about Latino representation in TV shows and movies enough or, rather, lack thereof. With Encanto’s sudden boom in popularity, I bet most if not all of you thought I’d bring up Bruno. I thought that we aren’t allowed to, though…?

Jokes aside, it’s interesting to see how the portrayal of Latin characters and culture has evolved. As a young Mexican girl, I grew up with Dora the Explorer and her cousin, Diego. Don’t get me wrong–I absolutely loved Dora and I think the show is a fun way for non-Latino kids to get a first “exposure” to the Spanish language and culture. As for Latino kids like I once was, who wouldn’t get excited hearing their home language and seeing their culture on TV? 

“Encanto,” if you didn’t know, translates to “enchantment” or “charm.” I’d say there’s a charm to the increase in Latino characters in media, especially with Disney. I remember Wizards of Waverly Place, which first aired in 2007, as having a predominantly Latino cast; in fact, it was the first Disney Channel show to have an interracial family. The first season even had an episode revolving around the main protagonist Alex Russo’s quinceañera, which is the traditional celebration of a Latina’s 15th birthday, symbolizing her entrance into womanhood. 

Other shows such as Elena of Avalor and Stuck in the Middle have also played a large role in Disney’s progress with representation. Honestly, though, I don’t know if we would’ve gotten Encanto without Coco, one of my all-time favorite Disney movies. I can’t tell you how excited I was to watch this movie in theaters and watch a Disney movie that revolves around Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Setting up an altar and celebrating the lives of late loved ones on this day is a Mexican tradition my family and I participate in every year, and seeing it on the big screen was not only fascinating but validating. Of course, most of us are exposed to Spanish through family and/or media, especially here in California, but watching Coco made me feel like Mexican culture was genuinely being represented, rather than appropriated. 

“Coco made me feel like Mexican culture was genuinely represented, rather than appropriated.”

Let’s get back to everyone’s current favorite Disney movie, the buzz of all social media: Encanto. What’s not to love about it? The soundtrack is incredibly catchy, the plot and characters are wonderful, and the best part is that it’s Disney’s first film with an all-Latino cast. In fact, most of the voice actors are Colombian as Encanto takes place in Colombia (as opposed to Coco taking place in Mexico). 

What else did Encanto accomplish? For one, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” has become so popular that it actually surpassed “Let It Go” on Billboard Hot 100. Do you know how insane that is? I’ve had younger cousins blast “Let It Go” for years now, so it’s really interesting to have reached the day when another Disney song becomes bigger than that. I can see why–people of all ages, not just little kids, seem to have the song on repeat. “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is a must anytime I carpool to school with my friends and it never fails to get me to sing. 

On top of that, Encanto is the first Disney animated movie co-directed by a Latina. Of course, there’s so much that can be said on this, like how it’s simultaneously a matter of celebration and frustration that Disney animation only recently has its first Latina director. 

Even so, representation both on and off-screen has definitely been on the rise. Whether you’ve got the Encanto soundtrack on repeat or you’ve seen any of the shows/movies I mentioned previously, I’m sure we can all agree that Latino representation has been improving and it’s gratifying to see that our cultures aren’t appropriated for profit, but are accurately depicted and celebrated through storytelling.

Angelina Leanos

Cal Lutheran '23

Hi! I'm Angelina and I'm the Co-Senior Editor/Writing Director of HCCLU. I'm a Junior majoring in English and minoring in Psychology. I love traveling, cooking/baking, listening to music, and writing poetry. Instagram: @angi.lean
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