When my boys discovered Dora, I quickly became their second girl. It was nothing for them to ask me to hush while her show was on. Dora is unique in that she is a Latina character cartoon. She is much beloved though is still a highly problematic character as Lois Leveen points out, in an article for Bitch magazine.
Short, broad, brown-skinned, and Spanish-speaking, Dora is phenotypically and culturally a mestiza (racially mixed) revision of the Spanish conquistadors who invaded and pillaged the Americas. Her name—a shortened form of exploradora—and her cartographic skills tie her to the era of exploration when indigenous people and their multiracial offspring were subject to foreign rule. But Dora isn’t pillaging, she’s only returning toys to their rightful owners. And if she captures a few estrellas along the way, at least they seem happy to aid with her adventure—happier, presumably, than the natives captured by the conquistadors were.
Because Dora’s gender and age never deter her from taking on a challenge, she might seem a far better role model than my generation’s Barbie. Not so, according to Nicole Guidotti-Hernández, assistant professor of women’s studies at the University of Arizona. In an essay titled “Dora the Explorer, Constructing ‘Latinidades’ and the Politics of Global Citizenship,” she argues that the kids’ show creates a monolithic Latino/a identity that appeals to the dominant culture (particularly white parents). Because Dora is not identified as specifically Mexican or Salvadoran, Puerto Rican or Peruvian, she exists outside of historical and political realities—including the debates about undocumented immigrants that have demonized Latino people in the United States. Not only is Dora unthreatening to Anglo audiences because she is a child, her cinnamon complexion and straight hair reflect European ancestry rather than indigenous and African roots. Throughout her adventures, Dora enjoys an unusual geographic mobility, crossing landscapes but never distinct borders, always returning home rather than staying somewhere new. Her animated domain is devoid of references to social class, labor, or a currency-based economy.
Hi, I’m conquistadora. Today, I’m going to subjugate the native peoples of new world and claim their territory for the royal kingdom of Spain. Vamanos! Look out, it’s the natives. To with their trust, I will give them a disease covered blanket from my backpack, but I need your help. Should the blankets give the natives small pox, chicken pox, or measles? Small pox!
Boots: I love love love small pox.
They hand over the blankets and one of the natives drops dead
Dora: Oh oh, it looks like their angry. Say (indecipherable) so I can use my advanced western weaponry to subdue them.
Gun: Ohla everybody. Time for the boom boom boom.
Dora: Why are the natives cowering like that? That’s right, they think I’m some sort of God.
Cow: Look Conquistadora, another indigenous people.
Dora: Quick! Boots and I will escape, while you turn the two tribes against each other.
Boots and Dora run until the come across a river with two native people standing in front of it.
Dora: There’s probably gold in that river but I don’t want to pan for it myself. Say whip, to make the natives pan for gold. That’s it keep saying whip. (she whips the native in the water as pans for gold and flinches under each lash) Muy bien. (the Native hands over the gold and she kicks him in the stomach.)
Look at all of these virgins. How many virgins are there? One, two, three, four, five –five virgins! Where’s my cousin Diego?
Diego: Ola Dora
Dora: All yours Diego. Don’t forget to covert them to Christianity when you’re done.
Boots and Dora run with torches in their hand and together say:
Come on Vamanos, everybody let’s go. Pillage (indecipherable) everybody stake your claim.
Boots: Oh no, it’s scalper the fox.
Dora: If we don’t do something, he’ll have our scalps. Say scalper, no scalping.
Scalper: Oh man.
Boots and Dora giggle and then shoot him with a gun.
While we are praising ourselves for letting our children watch a cartoon that has a Latina as a main character, we should question what history we are ignoring. Today is Columbus day and far too many still believe the lie that he was a simple explorer, rather than the father of the modern day slave trade, as well as presiding over the annihilation of native people. A truthful look at history reveals the inhumanity that millions were forced to live through for the purposes of greed and we perpetuate this horror every time we look away because it makes us uncomfortable.
Cross Posted from Women’s Eye on Media