My name is Carlos Anguiano, and I was born and raised in the close-knit community of Pacoima, California, a place characterized by strong family ties and adherence to a collectivist culture. From an early age, I was taught that I must do my part to support others and that I have a responsibility to serve my family and the members of my community in a meaningful way.  I agree that we must do our part to support one another; however, everyone must be treated as equals in the process, which doesn’t naturally happen. I often reflect on how my Mexican-American cultural experiences have influenced important decisions about my education, family, and career, and how I engage with and support others. In all three situations, I have experienced the importance of parent leadership and how it supports children’s growth and strengthens community. Parent leadership occurs when parents are given the opportunity to work within the community to build effective partnerships between parents, practitioners, and community members based on shared responsibility, expertise, and leadership to make decisions that impact their own families, their friends and/or relatives, and their communities (see I will use characters from Disney’s Encanto and my lived experiences to provide context about how I interpret the characters and their situations to illustrate parent leadership.

I will focus on two characters that stand out the most to me: Abuelita (grandma) and Mirabel. Before I begin, I want to share that I am Mexican-American and was raised by parents who adhered to the traditional norms of Mexican culture. I spent much of my adult life trying to understand how my past experiences shaped who I am today. My dad passed away about four years ago, and I am thankful that during his last years, I was able to ask questions that helped me understand why he did some of the things he did. I learned a lot from my dad, but most importantly, I learned that most parents want the best for their children, but sometimes they don’t know what kind of support their kids need. My dad sacrificed so much to give my siblings and I a better life; through his sacrifice, I’ve become the person I am today.

In Encanto’s opening scene, Abuela talks to young Mirabel (her granddaughter) about the tragedies she encounters in life and the paradise her husband’s sacrifices created to keep their family safe. Abuela explains to Mirabel that as she comes of age, she will get a gift that will “strengthen her community, strengthen their home, and make her family proud.” Much like Abuela, my grandma (maternal) was positioned at the center of the family, and she believed that it was our responsibility to help and support one another. My value and worth to the family depended on how I could support them and not me as an individual. For example, my dad was a construction worker, so there was an expectation that I would follow in his footsteps. My grandma would often volunteer me to help with a variety of chores not only for her but also for the neighbors because of my experience working with my dad. This caused tension between my grandma, my mom, and I because I didn’t want to conform to what she wanted me to be. Much like Abuela, my grandma wanted everything to remain the same and viewed change as an attack on her culture and past experiences. This often meant that I had to apologize to my grandma to prevent any problems with my family despite my pleas to be heard and valued for who I am as an individual.

Mirabel is the only person in her family who doesn’t have the special gift or the “magic” that her Abuela tells her she will get, or at least that is what everyone initially thinks. One of the first scenes in the movie shows Mirabel is in the community doing errands; she starts explaining the role everyone in her family plays, and it becomes apparent that she doesn’t feel valued for her contributions to the family and/or community. As the movie continues, we find out that Mirabel is the one who has the power to change things, to either ruin the magic or make it stronger. To understand what is happening to the magic, Mirabel embarks on a journey where she begins to view Abuela as the person ruining the family instead of making the family stronger. Abuela puts a lot of pressure on Mirabel’s sisters, Luisa and Isabela, to be perfect and carry the community’s weight. Abuela is so fixated on keeping everything the way it has always been that she overlooks how this negatively impacts the rest of her family. Luisa and Isabela are tired of always having to be perfect, and they both confide in Mirabel that they are unhappy. Still, they must do their part to support the community in the way Abuela defines support. In my opinion, the most powerful scenes of Encanto are the interactions and exchange of words between Mirabel and Abuela. For example, after hearing that her sisters are unhappy, Mirabel argues with Abuela, stating that she is the one who is ruining everything because nothing will ever be enough to meet her expectations. In the end, Abuela heard Mirabel and realized her rationale for keeping everything the same was motivated by her fear of losing her family. Abuela finally could see that Mirabel would never do anything to hurt them, and Mirabel’s concerns reflected the family’s responses.

From my perspective, Mirabel embodies the ideal leader, including a parent leader. She has an innate ability to connect and communicate with everyone she encounters. Through Mirabel’s involvement with the community, she learns to work with everyone to improve the conditions and outcomes of the community. Mirabel advocates for her sisters by explaining to Abuela that it is okay to work with the community instead of doing something for the community. In the final scene, Mirabel and Abuela gain a deep respect for each other, but they are still uncertain how they will be able to rebuild their house after it comes crumbling down. Despite losing everything, Mirabel had the community’s influence and support, allowing them to rebuild their house and recreate the magic associated with it. The part that stood out the most to me was when the community members sang, “We may not have special gifts, but we are many…”. I think Abuela overlooked the contributions of each community member because her past experiences distorted her perception of gifts and what is useful. As the community members rebuild Abuela’s home, Mirabel is seen delegating tasks, checking in to see how they are doing, and encouraging and supporting them – characteristics of a leader.

In summary, the ability of leaders to foster positive change begins with building collective capacity. For parents to become leaders in changing the education and related systems in ways that advance equity, they have to strengthen their own skills to build collective capacity and understand how to engage their cultural assets. The mindset of Abuela is still common in most traditional Mexican households. I encourage everyone to be more like Mirabel who serves as an advocate for the community, identifying their needs and supporting those around her to reach their full potential.

About The Author

Carlos Anguiano, Ph.D., is a Managing Associate at Community Science, where he applies his experience in educational research and evaluation design on behalf of foundations and nonprofits seeking to improve the lives of children and families through parent leadership.

Carlos served as a parent leader by volunteering to coach sports at the local Parks and Recreation Center, has served on the Head Start parent board, tutored kids in underserved communities through Upward Bound, and worked with a school district to develop a family, school, and community partnership that included free tutoring for elementary students, and a series of Family Nights about Math, Science, and Reading to demonstrate how parents can support their children at home.