Growing up, I never knew anyone else Colombian. Ever since I was little, my dad would teach me how to pronounce my last name, Arango, and correct people if they mispronounced it. I’ve always felt disconnected from my heritage, never really knowing much about it. The only representation in American media of Colombia was of drug cartels and assassins, and most of the time, the actors aren’t Colombian. For decades, movies have relied on the high-selling stories of cocaine dealers. According to a UCLA report on diversity in the media, “Only 5.2% of roles in film are played by Latino actors.” Modern Family features accurate and positive representation with Sofia Vegara, a Colombian actress, playing a Colombian woman. However, I was too young to watch the show when it was airing, so I never got a chance to see it. Narcos, a popular TV show from 2015 to 2017 that attracted over 3 million viewers, continued to perpetuate Colombian stereotypes relating to drugs and crime. While Colombia was ridden with crime and drugs in the 1980s, the country has taken steps to move forward, such as the 2016 Colombia Peace Treaty that ended a 52-year war between Colombia’s Armed Revolutionary Forces and the government. This action granted the President a Nobel Peace Prize. According to the U.S. Department of State, Colombia has moved up from a Level 3 Country to a Level 2 Country, meaning that Americans can visit the country with reasonable caution. And yet, stereotypes continue to prevent Americans from seeing Colombia as it truly is today.
When Disney released the trailer for Encanto, my family was extremely excited. A Disney movie set in Colombia with Colombian actors was unheard of. We went to see it during opening weekend, even though the movie was clearly for families with young children. The movie was good, but what stuck out to me the most was how little kids were finally seeing Colombia for its bright, energetic culture. The Disney studio clearly did their research, with accurate portrayals of the country, Colombian food (arepas con queso!!), and the appearances of the characters. All of the actors are Colombian, including Stephanie Beatriz, commonly known for her role in Brooklyn 99. When I worked at a day camp over the summer, it was not uncommon for the 3-5 year-olds to tell me that I look like Mirabel, the leading character in Encanto, due to my curly hair. Though those kids couldn’t understand, the impact of finally seeing a true representation of my Colombian heritage in cinema was priceless to me. Although I wish my younger self had been able to see Encanto, it made me really happy to know that other little kids out there could see themselves on the screen. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I highly recommend that everyone watches Encanto to fully understand and appreciate Colombian culture without negative stereotypes.