Dora The Explorer just celebrated her 10th birthday (though of course she doesn’t look a day over six). Nickelodeon is hailing her as the “first bilingual heroine of children’s TV,” and historian Carlos E. Cortes, who has advised the production staff, thinks Dora is helping to set the course for a more diverse political landscape in America.
The Associated Press notes that viewers who were 5 when the show debuted in 2000 are now 15-years-old. Cortes believes those young people may be the key to getting more non-white politicians in office. He says, ”It will be another three years until they go to college and (will) be able to vote, and I think we may see a difference. You can’t be certain, but our hope is that young people of all backgrounds will be more open.”
Dora has certainly played her part in the immigration debate. As SD blogger Paula pointed out back in May, Dora’s image has been used by people on both sides of the fence to illustrate their take on illegals. “Anti-immigration web sites see the character, whom they assume is a migrant from Mexico, as part of a larger conspiracy to convince Americans to welcome Hispanics,” while those against Arizona’s proposed witch hunt against immigrants view Dora as a friendly foreigner parents can sympathize with.
Despite Dora’s success, she’s not the first Latin character to grace children’s television. When I was a cartoon-watching kid in the 80′s, Speedy Gonzales was a fixture on Saturday mornings. First introduced to audiences in 1955, according to the San Antonio Express-News‘s history of animated Latino characters, Speedy was banned by Cartoon Network in 1999 because of the ethnic stereotypes his character perpetuated. But outside of the realm of animation, Sesame Street was undoubtedly groundbreaking in its portrayal of multiculturalism, including Latino couple Maria and Luis, who taught my generation to count to ten and say water in Spanish. Maria and Luis may not have been depicted as heroes in the literary sense, but they remain great role models simply as normal, everyday folk who make a positive contribution to their community of monsters and friends.
While Dora is a welcome addition to an otherwise white landscape in children’s cartoons, she’s no Sonia Sotomayor. It’s nice to think that kids are learning about diversity while being entertained, but I imagine real-life heroes will do more to advance the plight of Latino and black politicians and public officials than a little girl with a squeaky voice and a talking backpack.