“Encanto” Reminds Us that Resilience Will not Lead to Liberation

by Nicole Cozier

Like most of the country, I am enraptured in the phenomenon of the Disney blockbuster, “Encanto.” And while “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” is blowing up the Billboard Charts, the deeply moving and revealing song called “Surface Pressure,” sung by Luisa Madrigal, struck a knowing chord with me. In a brief moment where Luisa honors her own vulnerability despite being “blessed” with the gift of strength in the encanto, she reflects on the unrelenting pressure that she endures and the expectation of almost literally the weight of the world that is put on her shoulders every day.

Watch as she buckles and bends but never breaks

Give it to your sister and never wonder,

If the same pressure would've pulled you under,

Who am I if I don't have what it takes?"

Lyrics from "Surface Pressure"

These simple lyrics reveal so much about the trap of resilience — both the incredible toll it takes to constantly navigate profound burdens and at the same time, the cost of NOT doing so.

As a queer Black woman working in the nonprofit and social justice space, I have heard the steady drumbeat of glorifying resilience, the amazing strength and fortitude of marginalized communities, and the wondrous mastery of “making something out of almost nothing”. I have heard these echoed like they should be some sort of badge of honor to aspire to, with little recognition that often this expectation is just another set of shackles that keep us focused on surviving rather than encouraging and equipping us to thrive.

Now don’t get me wrong — the mantle of strength and resilience can be something to celebrate and be a source of pride, but not when it is the ONLY expectation for our existence. Not when it absolves the world around us from reflecting on WHY this continues to be the ongoing condition of our lives. And not when we reduce the obstacles imposed by oppression from something systemic to something that is simply a measure of individual fortitude.

There is too often a lack of recognition of what resilience costs us as individuals and as a people. It takes a tremendous toll. I am exhausted. I know that the people around me are exhausted. I know that this expectation to keep pushing through affects the way I show up for my family and for myself and in my community. I know it affects the energy and willingness I have to do the things that actually refuel me and replenish me. And I know that too often it overshadows our joy. Because even our joy is often only seen in the context of our resilience. We cannot continue to measure our worth by the distance we are forced to traverse between suffering and joy. That is not what makes Black joy profound or noteworthy, especially if we don’t really take time to experience it.

We are far from done in this fight for racial equity and liberation, and resilience alone will not get us there. During Black History Month especially, we get to slow down and reflect on the deep roots and legacy of Black people, including the stories and models of Black excellence and greatness, not simply of overcoming. Therefore, this month, I am invoking the power of my ancestors to redefine the narrative of our strength and success and our path to liberation.

While I am not able to put it to song, I hope my message is no less clear: We are more than the weight we are able to carry and the odds we defy. It is not just about the number of times we rise after getting knocked down. We are worthy and valuable because we exist. Our value as a people is in the beauty and power of who we are, who we have been, and who we can be, when our energy is focused on how we might rise without constant obstruction, and how we can succeed BECAUSE OF, rather than just how we progress IN SPITE OF. It is in being allowed to be whole people with strengths, weaknesses, the ability to make mistakes and the ability to celebrate all of it.

We must embrace ourselves and each other with compassion and create the space and time to celebrate, to rejoice, to heal, to replenish, and to refuel, not just persevere. And it requires being in a community invested in our well-being as individuals as much as a collective – because this kind of care is a community endeavor.

And because, ultimately, liberation is not just defined by breaking our shackles, but by learning to fly.