We need not be afraid to create stories of varied difference — stories that create inclusion not by an effort to combine everything into a melting pot, but by accepting diversity in all of its shapes, sizes, and colors. Disney’s new Latina princess from the new Disney channel show “Elena of Avalor,” is from a typical Disney mold which attempts diversity and a one-size-fits-all narrative. It is problematic for its sameness and its erasure of a truly diverse culture.
What is known as the Latina culture — like many other oppressed cultures — is one that is muddled in colonialism, racism, slavery; beauty, culture, tradition. Its diversity is such that it does not fit within a “Latina” “hispanic” “brown” “mixed” “ethnic” culture. As a fusion of many histories, its language is a representation of hegemony and its traditions are influenced by Spanish-European, African, Indigenous peoples who conquered and/or influenced large parts of the world at one time.
“Nevertheless, throughout history there has always been a constant presence of Muslims in Spain, many of which were former slaves (known as ‘moros cortados’) freed in the early 18th century. Furthermore, Spain’s proximity to North Africa and its small land border with the Kingdom of Morocco (as well as a colonial presence in North Africa lasting between 1912 and 1975) made Muslim presence in Spain inevitable.” — Islam in Spain
“Elena of Avalor” officially aired on July 22, 2016. The show’s head writer, Silvia Cardenas Olivas, said that she felt a “tremendous amount of responsibility to get her right, so that everyone, whether you’re Latino or not, [can] identify with her.”
With “Elena of Avalor’s” intended audience being younger children, the opportunity to redefine diversity by non-simplification is stronger than ever. Oilvas’s effort to create a character that she felt would be identifiable to both self-identified Latinas and non-Latinas alike could be viewed as her effort to construct an acceptable, likable, character who superficially may resemble and sound like a stereotypical “Latina” but is, in actuality, an americanized caricature and an assortment of stereotypes made into a children’s cartoon for Disney’s ever-growing empire. As a writer, she had the opportunity to create an engaging and diverse character that challenges dominant narratives and the given stereotypes of a culture. Silvia Cardenas Olivas’s “Elena of Avalor” does not do this. Perhaps Disney, despite its influence on younger people, is not the platform for this type of change.
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Praise Can Be Granted But More Work Must Be Done
Praising the inclusion of a long-awaited Disney princess of Latina origin (note: not a “full-featured” Disney princess) into the line-up of other so-called diverse Disney characters does not make up for the possibility of lost educational engagement. Creating an identifiable character does not necessarily mean dashing in Spanish words alongside other physical attributes that fit a molded caricature of latin-ness. The best identification stems from shared values — and although experiences may differ, it is more than a possibility for shared values to be found in cultures who physically, linguistically, traditionally differ from the mainstream dominant narrative.
“Elena isn’t indigenous or Afro-Latina or from a specific Latin-American country. She is a thin, light-brown Latina princess from Avalor, a made up Latin-American-esque kingdom that exists in a pre-colonial, pre-Columbian world. This, by the way, is baffling: how does one understand their Latino identity without acknowledging colonialism? While the backdrop of Elena is influenced by Mayan culture and Chilean folklore, her race and ethnicity is otherwise based in Disney fantasy.” — Melissa Lozada-Oliva in The Guardian’s Post
¡PSST! ©2016 The Black Lion Journal