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Friday, July 01, 2022

Gainesville’s Colombian community celebrates its own Encanto

UF alum and current students speak on representation in the Disney film

Marta Puyana, the namesake of La Cocina de Abuela, hugs her three grandchildren (left to right) Otis Puyana Darnell, 6, Valentina Peña Rey, 5, and Lucielena Puyana Darnell, 4, at La Cocina de Abuela on Friday, Jan. 21.
Marta Puyana, the namesake of La Cocina de Abuela, hugs her three grandchildren (left to right) Otis Puyana Darnell, 6, Valentina Peña Rey, 5, and Lucielena Puyana Darnell, 4, at La Cocina de Abuela on Friday, Jan. 21.

As “Encanto” spotlights the vibrance of Colombian culture on the big screen, the Gainesville Colombian community celebrates its own magic. 

The 2021 Disney film tells the story of the magical Madrigal family who resides in the mountainside of Casita, Colombia. When the Madrigals start to lose their powers, the only family member without magic, Mirabel, makes it her mission to save her family.  

“Encanto” is Disney’s first musical to represent the Colombian community. The musical’s soundtrack by Lin-Manuel Miranda reached No. 1 Jan. 15 on Billboard 200. The film’s discussion of immigrant family dynamics reached Gainesville, warming the hearts of local Colombians. 

For one Gainesville restaurateur, expressing her Colombian culture through her craft has been her lifelong mission. 

Sara Puyana lived in Colombia until she was 3 years old, when her family migrated to the Miami area to seek refuge after her father’s jewelry store was robbed four times. Aside from growing up in a Hispanic family, her frequent trips to Chico’s Restaurant in Hialeah, Florida, fueled her passion for Latin cuisine.

Puyana moved to Gainesville to attend UF in Summer 2000 and brought the food she grew up eating to a place that was missing it. 

The 40-year-old entrepreneur continues to leave her mark on the community with her two restaurants — Flaco’s and La Cocina de Abuela. 

Inspired by her godparents and Miami’s Cuban culture, Puyana opened Flaco’s Cuban Bakery in 2006. She opened La Cocina de Abuela, a Colombian eatery, in 2018.  

Puyana’s representation of central Colombia is evident in her bandeja paisa. The dish is traditionally served with steak, chorizo, pork belly, rice with a fried egg, red beans, avocado slices and a white arepa.

In sharing her thoughts on “Encanto,” Puyana laments her appreciation of lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda’s focus on mental health and the hard-working nature of the Colombian community. 

“It touched my heart so much,” she said. “He does such a good job of showing how we really value ourselves.” 

UF also captures a portion of Gainesville’s Colombian population through its student organizations. 

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When Isabella Montoya, a 22-year-old UF information systems senior, moved to UF, she felt  culture-shocked after growing up in a city that lacked Latin representation. 

“It was crazy to see … how big the Colombian community was,” she said about UF. “It really helped me get back into listening to more Colombian music, Spanish music, celebrating traditions and holidays that we have.” 

After seeing “Encanto,” Montoya gushes over the justice she felt it served her community. As a fan of Latin music, she was quick to catch the film’s use of Colombian music styles. 

“It’s really inspiring and nice to see Colombia in a really positive light,” she said. “It was just really nice seeing representation in the film industry.” 

Contact Jared at jteitel@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @jaredteitel.

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