Factory GirlDora the Explorer and the Dirty Secrets of the Global Industrial Economy

Dora the Explorer, eponymous Latina star of the animated Nickelodeon series, is a bilingual problem solver who confidently traverses unknown territory in every episode. In “City of Lost Toys,” a typical episode, Dora sets out to find her missing teddy bear, Osito, and other toys her friends have lost. She's helped along the way by her sidekick (a monkey named Boots), her trusty map, and a group of magical stars she and Boots catch. The first landmark Dora reaches on her journey is a Mesoamerican-style pyramid where she must complete basic counting and arithmetic problems. She then makes her way through a jungle, eventually arriving at a neo-Mayan Lost City hidden behind a curtain that lifts only when Dora leads the viewer in, calling “Arriba!”—the Spanish word for “up.” Once inside the Lost City, Dora reclaims Osito and her friends' missing toys. She and Boots dance and sing “We Did It!/¡Lo hicimos!,” the jubilant song of self-affirmation that ends each episode.

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. 

But in reality, Dora is less a global citizen than a global commodity, a marketing dream of multicultural merchandise that simultaneously appeals to Anglo and Latino parents and children. Ultimately, Dora is the product of a global television market and serves the transnational capital interests of Viacom, which owns Nickelodeon, and Mattel, whose subsidiary Fisher-Price makes Dora toys that are sold worldwide. As the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood documents, the Dora franchise has earned over $3.6 billion dollars in retail sales since debuting in 2000. 

Dora's starring role in the lucrative global television market stands in sharp contrast to the role real Latinas have played in a more literal form of television production, in which maquiladora trumps exploradora. First created in the 1960s, maquiladoras are foreign-owned Mexican factories in which imported raw materials and components are assembled into products that are exported for sale. Women constitute about 80 percent of the maquiladora workforce; according to Maquilapolis, a documentary by Vicky Funari and Sergio De La Torre, women are recruited because factory owners consider them docile low-wage laborers. 

The film focuses on the maquiladoras of Tijuana, which have produced so many electronics that the city is known as “la Capital Mundial de la Televisión,” or “World Capital of the Television.” Television assembly became a maquiladora industry in part because the cost of shipping finished components made it advantageous to produce units in close proximity to U.S. consumer markets. When NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, went into effect in January 1994, it initiated a new boom era for electronics maquiladoras. With tariffs lowered or eliminated and new “rules of origin” requiring that certain parts be produced within the three-nation trade region, maquiladora production became more lucrative than ever. In 1994, Mexican President Ernest Zedillo devalued the peso, making Mexican labor even cheaper for foreign companies (and raising the cost of living for Mexican workers). In one three-month period in 1996, 134 new maquiladoras began production, an average of 1.5 new factories opening every day. As a result of NAFTA, the number of Mexicans employed in television manufacturing increased two and a half times, to more than 92,000 workers—the majority female, with an average age of 24.5.

As the number of maquiladoras exploded, so did health problems among workers and their families. And an equally sinster issue—the fact that hundreds of maquiladora workers have been abducted, raped, and murdered in factory-heavy border cities like Juarez, with local authorities often unwilling to investigate such murders—has led workers and onlookers to despair at the treatment of female workers as literally disposable commodities. 

But the women working in maquiladoras haven't proven quite as docile as owners once hoped. As the rate and range of chronic illnesses have mounted, many female workers have organized to focus government attention on the health and environmental damage caused by the maquiladoras—for instance, the huge releases of lead waste and other toxins caused by electronics production. 

Unfortunately, multinational owners can avoid the cost of environmental cleanup by simply abandoning their Mexican factories and relocating production to Asian countries that have even less regulation or enforcement. Since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, factory production there has increased dramatically, and the country now leads the world in television manufacturing. As in Mexico, young women dominate the electronics factory workforce. They are paid less than their male counterparts and routinely forced to labor in unsafe conditions and to work unpaid overtime. The horrors of factory labor have led to the coining of a new word in Mandarin Chinese—guolaosi—to describe the growing phenomenon of being literally worked to death.

The animated adventures of Dora the Explorer may seem very distant from the harsh realities of factory labor, but the connection between the multibillion-dollar television franchise and imperiled workers in a global industrial economy is both distinct and disturbing. Like Osito in “City of Lost Toys,” Dora herself has appeared on the list of toys gone missing: In 2007, numerous Dora the Explorer playsets were recalled because they contained lead paint. 

In 1928, Walter Benjamin decried the effect industrialization had on toy production, arguing that children are inculcated into national and class interests both through the toys themselves and through the often hidden processes by which toys are produced. His critique rings true today: The massive toy recalls laid bare the relationship between children's entertainment and toxic factories that churn out cheap goods. Although U.S. consumers have usually paid less attention to where goods are made than to how much they cost, as the number of toys recalled in 2007 climbed to more than 25 million, unsafe imports became the focus of scrutiny by watchdog groups, mainstream media, and the public. The specter of lead poisoning suddenly seemed the clear result of both globalization and of a failure by the U.S. to monitor its own borders.

From a U.S. vantage point, the problem might initially seem to stem from deregulation in the face of globalization. In the early '70s, $427 million worth of games, toys, and sporting goods were imported into the U.S. By 1980, imports had more than quadrupled, to $1.8 billion. By 2005, the level topped a staggering $25 billion in imports, with China producing 75 percent of the total toys purchased worldwide. Even as the levels of imports have risen, the regulation of goods sold in the United States has plummeted. 

Staffing and appropriations for the Consumer Product Safety Commission today stand at about half of what they were when Ronald Reagan took office in 1981—so low that even some manufacturers have called for better regulation, if only to improve their own standing with consumers. But pressing the federal government to increase consumer protection is only the first step. Independent American watchdog agencies like the National Labor Committee and China Labor Watch have long challenged unsafe and illegal conditions in foreign factories. Yet their efforts have received only limited attention from the media and the public, even as anxiety about the safety of products being used by Americans has mounted. 

With its emphasis on porous borders and foreign threats to the home and homeland, the dialogue surrounding the toy scare has pronounced parallels to anti-immigrant debates. In her incarnation as a lead-contaminated toy, Dora shares something with Latina factory workers after all—albeit not with the women of the maquiladoras so much as with the women (and men) who have been targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids on factories in the United States. And, just like unsafe toys, undocumented immigrants have entered our homes, with many U.S. households relying on both foreign-born domestic laborers and foreign-made plastic playthings as inexpensive conveniences. The concurrent toy scare and immigration backlash together imply that there's a Trojan My Little Pony headed your family's way, and whether it manifests as their toy or their caretaker, your kids may not be safe.

If it seems far-fetched to connect immigrant domestic laborers with recalled Dora the Explorer toys, consider a page from Audre Lorde's now-classic critique of the racism and classism within second-wave feminism, “The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House.” Originally delivered in 1979, “The Master's Tools” challenged middle-class white feminists to broaden their analysis of gender oppression by addressing “the fact that the women who clean your houses and tend your children while you attend conferences on feminist theory are, for the most part, poor women and women of Color.”

Lorde's own experience made her acutely aware of how race and gender shape employment. In the early 1950s, she operated an X-ray machine in a Stamford, Connecticut, electronics factory—the sort of factory that might be found in China or in post-NAFTA Mexico today. The factory processed quartz crystals for radio and radar machinery, crystals that were washed on-site in vats of carbon tetrachloride. As Lorde recalled in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, “Nobody mentioned that carbon tet destroys the liver and causes cancer of the kidneys. Nobody mentioned that the X-ray machines, when used unshielded, delivered doses of constant low radiation far in excess of what was considered safe even in those days. Keystone Electronics hired Black women and didn't fire them after three weeks. We even got to join the union.” Aside from the plant supervisors, every worker was African-American or Puerto Rican.

Lorde worked at the factory for a few months when she was 18. She was 44 when she was diagnosed with cancer, 58 when she died from it. It seems an appropriate tribute to Lorde that we remind ourselves that the master's toys are contaminating a lot more than the master's house. They are contaminating the health of the factory workers who are exposed to lead and other harmful substances, as well as the health of workers' families. And they are contaminating cities and villages all over the globe.

It's understandable that Americans want to protect our kids from lead and other contaminants. But if we really want to live—and teach—multicultural, multiracial feminist values, we can't focus only on removing suspect goods from our own homes. We need to turn our collective attention to the process by which those goods are produced, the corporations that profit from their creation, and, most important, the workers and families who suffer most from toxic exposure.

Because at the end of this missing-toy episode, it would be nice if the refrain, “We Did It!/¡Lo hicimos!” referred to a collective effort to improve environmental and health protections worldwide, rather than to our culpability as consumers in a global economy that exacts ever-greater tolls on workers from Tijuana to Guangdong. 

This article was published in Genesis Issue #40 | Summer 2008
by Lois Leveen
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32 Comments Have Been Posted

Is Dora really the best target?

After reading Lois Leveen's article on Dora the explorer and her relationship to race politics and labour controversies it felt important to offer another position; while the concerns raised here as to political issues are completely valid, I question how important it is to centralize these concerns in critiquing Dora. Yes, people in the USA and Canada do tend to merge "Latin" into one category, and it is hypocritical to capitalize in on 'Spanish' culture without respecting the people. However, as a cultural anthropology student I would point out that both processes are intrinsically connected to the colonization and are found in a multitude of cases including England and India; witness the popularity of paisley and curry. While inequality is rampant in this globalized world, sometimes the exposure of people to even superficial aspects of other cultures, such as Spanish phrases, can have the benefit of making them interested in learning more. It is precisely because there is so much discrimination that it is so important to get children interested in learning about Latin American cultures, even superficially, at an early age. Maybe now all they see is pinatas and pyramids, but it is surprising how that initial interest in the "Other" can morph into something more meaningful, and more radical. So many characters for kids carry far weightier burdens, such as prepubescent sexualization that it seems to me that maybe making Dora synonymous with Latin American exploitation might not be the most important item on the agenda.

Go Dora

Wait a minute - we actually get a cartoon that has a girl (who actually looks like a girl) as the hero, is multicultural, bilingual, solves her own problems, is proud to be who she is as well as intelligent and I'm supposed to eschew this because its not an absolutely perfect model from an adult point of view?


While I absolutely agree with what Lois Leveen says in her article and applaud her for penning a well written piece that is not only informative but also makes you think, when given the choice of the Bratz vs. Dora, I will always choose Dora.

Anyone interested in what is being marketed to kids right now should really check out the BBC. Not only is Cbeebies (the BBC channel for young tots) advert free (entirely advert free!) but it has some great shows that are much more advanced and progressive than our American counterparts. Take StoryMakers (currently on hiatus). Every adult in this program is a person of colour. Not only are the Cbeebies presenters from all different backgrounds but the shows themselves reflect a multicultural environment without making a big deal about it or making it exotic. The channel, indeed the shows, reflect a multicultural environment as being the norm. Refreshing doesn't begin to describe it.

We don't often watch regular tv (with adverts) but as we live in Ireland I am fond of the Irish speaking channel (TG4), which means we watch Dora in Irish / Spanish. Not only for the bilingual aspect do I like Dora but also because she isn't hypersexualised like the Bratz (who make Barbie look like a school marm)!


this article was.

Seriously, expecting a CARTOON FOR LITTLE KIDS to thoroughly examine all the perils striking the character's ethnic group?
Please, call out Pingu for not thoroughly discussing Global Warming, or Little Bill for not detailing the rampant racism faced by Black people. And of course "she exists outside of historical and political realities": SHE'S A CARTOON FOR LITTLE KIDS! If she is anything, it's a positive role model for young Latinas. The next time you include an article about Latina oppression, try not to fallaciously demean one of us in the process, even if she is animated.

Also, Dora's physical appearances do not "reflect European ancestry rather than indigenous and African roots". Have you ever seen and indigenous person from Latin America? I would think not, since Dora looks EXACTLY like them. Even if we do have some European ancestry, it does not diminish our Latinidad, thankyouverymuch.

Yes, cartoons are very much commodified and can serve to indoctrinate little kids into the cult of consumerism, and, Yes, Latinas are routinely oppressed by said consumerism, but to say that those issues should be addressed by a specific cartoon because the main character is of the same ethnicity as those oppressed is logically insubstantial at best and downright racist at the very worst, which, by the way, is exactly how my mother and I (both light-skinned Mexicans) took it.

God, there are so many more things I find wrong with this article, but I'll end with this: The injustices against Latinas described in this article are certainly true, but to heap them onto one of the Very Few positive and empowering representations of Latinas in Mass Media is bullshit. period.

Feminist Critique - Wasn't That the Point?

I'm really surprised by the comments posted thus far. The article opens by delineating the best side of Dora - young, female, bilingual Latina problem solver. Then it pushes deeper to critique some of the more subtle messages surrounding the show, most significantly a disturbing level of marketing collateral items directly to young kids. And guess what, those items are made by people of color who are being exposed to toxic chemicals just so a major international corporation and its affiliates can reap big profits by selling cheap goods to American consumers.

Most of the critique of Dora as a character per se actually comes from Women's Studies Professor Nicole Guidotti-Hernández's article in the Summer 2007 issue of Latino Studies, the leading academic journal in the field (and I'm pretty sure Guidotti-Hernández doesn't need a lesson in what indigenous Americans look like). I referenced her argument because it cogently reminds us that we shouldn't be so happy just to see any show about a person of color that we fail to look critically at the depiction. Americans already suffer from what I've elsewhere critiqued as "restaurant multiculturalism" - the belief that you can celebrate ethnicity by literally enacting what bell hooks calls "Eating the Other." Tuning into the Other isn't much better, even if it makes middle class parents feel like they're doing the politically correct thing.

It's really striking that all these comments focus on defending Viacom's billion-dollar franchise, rather than engaging the larger issue of American consumers taking responsibility for how our purchasing power contributes to environmental and health damage suffered by families in Mexico, China, and elsewhere around the globe. I'd like to challenge the Bitch readers who like the Dora show to think about what they might do from their position as fans to contest the way Dora is used to market goods to young kids, and the way the production of those goods have jeopardized the health of factory workers in China. Si se puede


Why pull down positive role models when our girls have so few?

If you want to campaign for the health of factory workers in China I am sure there are many better ways to go about it than laying the responsibility around the shoulders of a fictional Latina cartoon character.

I agree that everything in the media should be looked at critically, regardless of origin. And that includes your article.

people's prickly responses

People seem to think that Lois Leveen has offended Latino/as with her comments. She has not. It is Viacom who has offended, by offering a bland but passable entertainment that allows us to feel good about our choices while selling us contaminated toys. Meanwhile the shadows of third-world labour, some of it within our borders, crawl ever longer over our middle-class landscape.

Dora the Explorer

As the mother of a two-and-a-half year old, who feels that Dora (along with Robert Munsch) is one of the few vaguely positive popular culture characters, I felt I had to write in. This response, I'd like to note, is *not* an endorsement of a multinational corporation--and I think that to say that to criticize Leveen's presentation of Dora here is not to universally condone everything that Viacom (or whatever the company is) does. Leveen's article can be inaccurate and offensive and ethnocentric, and I can say so, without uncritically embracing the mess that is today's supermarketed, consumeristic, children's entertainment.

Maybe I'll start by saying that Leveen's criticism of Dora, that she exists outside of a specific socio-historical context, demonstrates a real unfamiliarity with the sort of material generally designed for 2-5 year-olds. (Not to mention, this is the charge leveled against "whiteness" all the time: that it is a universal experiential signifier. And now it's a charge against non-whiteness, too?) Although it would be great to have someone with the prominence (and corporate support) of Dora teaching the history of colonialism, I know that my two-year-old daughter wouldn't get much from it. Sad but true. I have enough trouble trying to explain to her what "yesterday" is, yet alone 500 years of cultural oppression and genocide.

I'm also extremely wary of teaching young children, especially female children, the history of their oppression before they discover the strength of their own empowerment-- exactly, I feel, what Dora is doing. (And as for the fact that she returns home at the end of each episode: although this may be intended as the insidious colonial comment that Leveen imagines, she might want to observe that this is a cliché of children's literature. And, Harlequin romances aside, children's literature is just about as formulaic as it comes. I think it's probably motivated by the idea that children will get scared if they don't end up at home at the end of the story.)

Leveen says, "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." This statement makes me wonder wonder how many First Nations people Leveen has seen (let alone interacted with): from Nunavut to Patagonia, the indigenous of the Americas typically have straight hair. I have absolutely no idea why Dora's straight hair would be indication of European ancestry. Leveen might also want to observe that Dora's "cinnamon complexion" is also typical pigmentation of many (if not most) (full-blooded, untanned) indigenous groups of the Americas. Is she confusing Latin America with Africa? Having lived in strongly indigenous parts of the Americas (both my hometown, Edmonton Alberta, and Chiapas, Mexico), I do not understand why Leveen would consider Dora to be so adamently mestiza by virtue of her body type, either. Phenotypically, Dora is typically indigenous in that she is short and stout. This is exactly the sort of body type, incidently, that one *never* sees on billboards in Mexico or Peru or Bolivia or Chile, which trumpet a more European physique--tall and thin-- as the ideal of beauty. These women are also, to put it bluntly, as white as you can get. By virtue of her physique, Dora is resoundingly radical by standards of Latin American beauty.

The truly offensive part of this article, for me, was the article's hinging of "exploradora" with "maquiladora." I was shocked that Leveen would feel that the maquiladora represented a truer expression of Latina potential than Dora's (fictional, true) problem-solving antics. This conflation, of Latin American feminine potential with sweatshop is, on one hand, a purely American construction: Latin America extends as far Northern Mexico, and some parts of Central America, out there and geographically amorphous. On the other hand, it's massively inaccurate. Women throughout the Latin America do exactly what women in America do: get educated, make art, write books, learn history, open up businesses, kiss girls, struggle with sexism, take care of family, menstruate, midwife, museum curate, whatever. Certainly, the cultural terrain is different--and clearly maquiladoras exist and exploit-- but that's what comes with a different culture. To say that Dora is an inaccurate or irresponsible role model because she doesn't end up in a maquiladora is a supremely ethnocentric condemnation, perhaps with colonial overtones. Why can't Dora do whatever the hell she wants? Because Leveen thinks she should be sewing her shoes and cleaning her house?

A Worthwhile Article

I'm an education major, and I did a project last year about the topic of what is considered "educational" television in the United States. It's honestly very shocking. Scholarly article after scholarly article pointed out that the FDA's loose rules in the matter of educational television have produced mounds of junk, including shows like Dora.

Educators-- from teachers I know personally to those who write essays about the subject-- agree on Dora the Explorer's considerable lack of educational value. She is bossy, unnerving, and quite the capitalist. She demands the viewer do things in a brash manner, without even using words like "please" ("You have to say MAP! SAY MAP!"). She isn't ever satisfied until she finds the material items which are so important to her, and all along the way she randomly spouts out Spanish phrases--without giving them a proper, educational context. Sesame Street, on the other hand, takes its time in teaching Spanish, and does so in a much more patient manner.

Yes, children may not know about gluttonous capitalism, or the perils of Latina women yet. They don't know about Barbie's hyper-sexualized unrealistic body image either, but I think an article about Barbie's detriment to the young female psyche would not be greatly disputed on this website. I see nothing wrong with Dora's appearance, but I think too many parents believe that a non-white character starring in a show substitutes as some sort of cultural education for their children.

What children see on television can often not be helped. Not yet a parent, I cannot begin to understand how difficult it can be to filter television and toys. I did think, however, that this article was a worthwhile feminist critique of a show that deserved a second glance, and I for one greatly appreciated it.

"one *never* sees on

"one *never* sees on billboards in Mexico or Peru or Bolivia or Chile"

CIA Factbook on Ethnic groups in Chile:

white and white-Amerindian 95.4%, Mapuche 4%, other indigenous groups 0.6% (2002 census)

Similar for Argentina. While all of the countries in the American continent had aboriginal populations, some of the colonists decided it'd be cool to exterminate them, and replace them with european inmigrants (sound familiar? why do I feel like eating some turkey?). "Latin American" is not an ethnicity. Look around you, do you see any "native-americans"? Should I assume that you or the author of the article are native-americans, and that all the white people I see on US TV shows are a lie too?


I am just trying to figure out what a better alternative would be? I have always liked the idea of Dora.

Dora is better than the alternatives

Okay, I understand how Dora is offensive to Latinos. However, I'm sure Rosita on Sesame Street is probably offensive, too.
I'm not worried about my three-year-old daughter watching Dora because it has some redeeming qualities. She does solve problems, she does teach sequence and she's not singing, "Some day my prince will come."
I'm fairly certain that my daughter does not have any racial hang-ups about Dora. She attends a multi-cultural daycare center and sees people of all different heritages every day in many different capacities (friends, teachers, etc).
I think your kids will get out of it what you give them out of it. If you tell them that Dora is a racist stereotype then they will get that out of Dora. If you tell them that Dora is a strong, independent problem-solver, they'll get that. If you focus on the negative then you will permanently stain the goggles with which your children view the world. If you focus on the positive aspects then the negative will most likely be a blip on the radar.
I'm more worried about my daughter watching the Disney Princesses (something that I tried to avoid, but she was introduced to them at school). I find that a more negative and offensive image for youngsters. Helpless, white-women waiting for princes, great...just the stereotype I needed to show my daughter. If you want to talk LACK OF DIVERSITY and pathetic female stereotypes you need look no further than the Disney Princesses.


I must say, I agree with many of the comments posted about this article. I am a latin american woman with two young daughters who love Dora.

I can certainly see how some cartoons or toys can have hidden "messages" so to speak. I agree with that & have seen is mostly done in cartoons I watched growing up, like Bugs Bunny or Donald Duck being racist by actually using the "N" word or Tom & Jerry with their black housekeeper who has bad grammer, but I just think some people are reading too much into Dora.

She is not offensive to me at all. Why would she be? Perhaps if there really were no latin young girls who were intelligent, healthy looking and self-sufficient, i'd feel patrionized.

My children don't watch too much TV but when they do, they never watch anything I haven't already seen & have approved. They don't watch, for example, Spongebob, Higglytown Heroes or Ed, Edd & Eddie & the like. SO I do consider myself hands-on when it comes to what they watch.

But Dora? That's just ridiculous. Too much analyzing, in my opinion. Like another stated, i'd choose Dora over Bratz or most of the crap out there today, ANYDAY.

Hold on a minute...

I have to agree with those who have said that Nicole Guidotti-Hernández places WAY too much responsibility on a children's television show. Although she uses Dora as a device to explore some very important issues that deserve attention, I think that these may be beyond the grasp of Dora's intended demographic.

Although the makers of children's television shows should be very mindful of their material (Bratz REALLY freak me out), it is impossible to address complicated geopolitical issues in a children's show and still keep the audience's attention! I am mixed Mexican and English, and I am confused at why it is a problem to portray Dora having short hair and a cinnamon complexion. Many Mexicans DO look like that because many TRUE Mexican have a lot of Spanish ancestry. My Mexican relatives show a broad range of phenotypes, some of which are more "indigenous" (Aztec, in this case) than others. By assuming that a role model is inadequate because she does not represent those who are the most indigenous (the darkest!?) of her country, you are hurting the goal of acceptance, because DIVERSITY is the what is important. I think that people from countries such as Costa Rica and Paraguay that are composed entirely of mestiza people would be confused as to why it is bad that Dora does not show more "indigenous and African roots."

I hope the line that says

I hope the line that says her cinnamon complexion and straight hair are European was a typo. Those aren't the features of ANY European group I know of. The kid looks Native. I'm Eastern Band Cherokee, and although we're lighter skinned usually (our Iroquoian roots,) I'd know a Native when I see one--cartoon or otherwise.

When people say European,

When people say European, they usually mean Caucasian. The generally lighter-skinned people within Latin America tend to be of Spanish or Portuguese descent, or mixed-race. Spain and Portugal are European countries, whose native people are actually of Caucasian descent. They're generally light-olive-skinned, dark-haired (and some of the middle-eastern groups are actually Caucasian as well, and generally dark-haired and olive-skinned). Native Americans (not just including those in the U.S.) are (arguably, if you are taking our creation mythologies into account and don't believe we came over at some point in the last 12,000 years) Eurasian. The differences have to do with facial features, build, shape of nose, height, predisposition to diseases, not just skin color or hair color and texture, although we are <b>more likely</b> to be darker than those who are predominantly Spanish and Portuguese descended. If someone were to look at my skeleton after I died, and compared it to a Spanish girl's, the proportions of bone that affect our appearances would be very dfferent, the shape of the nasal cavity, the cheekbones, the eyes, the height, the way the different portions of the face shift into the others.

Not jumping on you, just talking about stuff.

I agree with you, actually.

I agree with you, actually. I've lived in latin america all my live and I distinctively see the native in Dora.

Seriously, Ladies

Have we lost the ability to talk to our little girls?

I don't believe that Dora traipsing around the jungle sends any little girl a message about poor factory workers or misconstrued ideas about latino culture. Why? Because they don't care about that crap. If you want you little girl to know about the power of big companies over the lives of other people, then talk to your kids. Let them know about this kind of injustice without sacrificing one of their favorite cartoon characters. Anyone who lets their little girl's life be governed by a cartoon image has MUCH bigger issues on hand. I see a Beavis & Butthead moment happening in their future.

What about Boots? Will someone PLEASE think of the monkeys?! Boots is clearly a misrepresentation of the ape community. Not only do we not know what species of monkey Boots is, but he is portrayed in a way that appeals only to Anglo-American audiences, lacking any sort of accent at all. It is a disgusting travesty that he, a male monkey, travels alone WITHOUT PANTS alongside a grade-school child. What brand of shoes does he wear? Not once in the Dora series do we find out how those shoes were manufactured and if they are made up on vegan components. Also, the very name 'Boots' implies that he is only present to be ridiculed. What, the name 'Bubbles' wasn't available?

Find something better to do, already.

I agree - the hyper

I agree - the hyper sensitivity doesn't get you anywhere. If you're against sweatshops - stop buying from them, and convince others to do the same. The animators and story writers that make Dora are just doing their job, an above average one at that.

This is a active, non-white,

This is a active, non-white, female character that my 4 year old cuban-american son idealized. Commercialized, sure. But as much as I tried to avoid "character" content on goods marketed to children, when my son encountered light-up dora sandals in the "girls" section of the kohl's shoe department and fell in love, I bought them for him. He wore them with obvious pride. I don't believe the show has educational value. I don't believe tv really can, honestly. Most studies show it does not: education happens in living, not watching. But I do know that my son had a female heroine. And I'm grateful for it. And I'm looking closely for more.

I loved this comment. And to

I loved this comment.

And to those of you who cry "hyper-sensitivity," I must retort that the same epithet has been hurled at every social critic since the dawn of time. Dora the character is not even the main focus of this article, but an introduction and a metaphor for seemingly progressive steps we have taken as a society that have a seedy underbelly. I feel that many of you have uncharitably fixated on the feeling of "but I LIKE Dora! She can't be bad!" instead of seeing that even something you have warm feelings for can have an unpleasant side.

Dora's hair

I can't believe how much attention the line from the original post about Dora's skin and hair is getting!

Let's think about the Carribean. It's inbetween both American continent, but many of the islands host black-skinned, curly-haired people of African origin.

People who identify as Latina/Latino in places like Cuba, Puerto Rico, Rebpublica Dominca may very well have African features.

There is some beautiful, hilarious commentary on race, ethnicity and appearance in the D.R. in "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz.

Dora the explorer is an

Dora the explorer is an animated character of a show on Nickelodeon. Why is she being targeted? Aren't there more important people to target, real people for instance? There's nothing wrong with Dora being Latino, or are you arguing that all role models for children should be white? If Dora was white, people would complain that there are no Latino role models for children. But since she's Latino, people have to complain that she fits stereotypes. I think its a good thing to incorporate Latino history into the show, into the background of the plot. Exploradora? That's something that the parents can tell the children when they are watching the show with them, that the name of the show and the name of the character represent something in history. Children can lean Spanish from this show. It is history and life lessons that they are learning, not stereotypes or anything like that. Leave her alone.

Extremely interesting

I've read this article and the comments with a mixture of thoughts and emotions.

I'm still shocked by how vigorously, and at times viciously, people defend their brand. The creators of Dora have done such a good job making the character, merchandise, and Dora's world satisfying to people, making them "feel" a sense of rightness, making them "feel" better for having Dora in their lives, that they are defending her as if she were real, as if their sense of stability, satisfaction with life, and maybe even consumer freedom were at stake.


Dora isn't real. The creators of Dora don't care about you or your children. Dora is a business and your good feelings about her are merely the hook, the pitch, the point of sale.

Wholesome content doesn't mean there are wholesome intentions at play. You're desires for a wholesome, healthy, safe world are being packaged and sold to you while global health and safety are eroded to sell you more and more and more.

This is only one angle. But I think the creators of Dora do such a fantastic job of gaining your devotion that you'll all defend "her" to the end. I wish people would realize that they don't need corporate products and logos to have all the things those products and logos promise to provide. They distract us from the real work of living better lives. They anesthetize us. Shame on those who amplify mass culture and help line the pockets of the rich at the expense of the powerless.

Um, Dora the Explorer is a


Dora the Explorer is a show designed for preschoolers. If you find something racist about you are seriously reaching, misinterrupting and digging WAY too deep into it. The creators of Dora original sought to create modern preschool television using concepts that help preschoolers use analytical skills. She also isn't always in search for someone's lost toy in fact I say that happens rarely. Normally Dora is trying to get somewhere or assisting someone else somewhere. They used a latina main character because they felt they latina was under represented in American television but also to have cross over appeal to white Americans interested in teaching children Spainish. Spainish also so happens to be the second most popular language spoken in the US. Also, its been made more than clear that Dora is Mexican. This point has been made on several holiday episodes and in random episdoes when Dora is discussing something of her culture. I would guess that the author of this doesn't know much about preschool, preschool television, or the show itself but I would get more familiar with it before I would write such a critical essay. I am not latina but I appreciated a latina little girl being represented on preschool televsion. In a country that has so many hispanic citizens, specifically from Mexico and still a large amount of racism towards them I believe having a Mexican little girl on televsion is ground breaking. Dora's encouraging message, "We did it," is used in almost every other show in some way. Blue's Clues, "We firgured it out" these are self esteem boosters. I think suggesting that the intention of Dora as representing a cultural group or being a role model is a little much. She isn't a Disney princes, she is just a little girl meant to teach children things about inter and intrapersonal skills, along with analysis. The show's format is meant to be similar to an online game. Dora is simply an avatar meant to represent the child and assist with learning. Dora has no deeper meaning than this. She isn't targeted to a demographic larger than pre-school.


I thought this article was very interesting.

I recently read both "Born to Buy" and "Packaging Girlhood", and because I read them in such close proximity to each other, I can't remember which I read it in, but there was a very interesting point made that I'm surprised hasn't been brought up here. Dora, while being a spunky problem-solver who traipses through the jungle on her show, is marketed as a toy dressed in pink frilly dresses having tea parties. It's such an interesting bait and switch, since, in the show (at least at the beginning--my understanding is that the content has changed a little since the show started), she would never wear such frippery, and tends to be much too active to have "fashion parties" and such...

Anyway, unlike many of the commentators here, apparently, I appreciate the chance to cast a critical eye and thought on any given "role model". Ultimately, I suppose I feel that REAL women in real life should be inspiration for young girls.

Thank you for this article.

To a MAN duh

But what you fail to understand is that this critique isn't fair because some of the facts are inaccurate as I pointed out.

If you twist and manipulate things you can find issue with anything and over all it deflects from the actual issues in racism and feminism as depicted in our main stream media. When suddenly someone is making claims that something is offensive when it actually isn't it causes the lines between what is and what isn't offensive to become blury. We as minorities can't chance that. We have to chose are battles.

How Dora is marketed in stores is interesting in contrast to how she is portrayed in the show but that's marketing. If you find issue with that then don't blame Dora or the cartoon. Dig deeper into the nature vs. nurture debate that feminist and the rest of the free world have been arguing since the question arised. This is how products are marketed to little girls in America. To understand that you have to accept the fact that pop culture is the American culture. Therefor major corruptions have more influence than anyone else.

Besides, what are we telling our girls if we don't encourage them to express themselves? Even if a child prefers "frilly" things that is the child's preference and they should be allowed that. No one should aspect a 3 year old to take on any deep political philosophies nor should an adult force their ideals on to their children. Then we are being hypocrits.

As for women in real life being role models I challenge you: set a three year old in front of Dora the Explorer, then set one in front of "The View" take note on the one she actually watches.

We communicate to our children through ways that will reach them. Dora, like most preschool television, was designed to appeal to younger children therefor is a more affective. Most little girls would rather dress like Hannah Montanna than their mother's and this is for no other reason than that is where they are developementally. You have to understand how a preschooler's mind works to know how much stimulation is required to hold such a short attention span.

We use these shows as a way of reaching out to our children in ways we can't ourselves. With your arguement, should we deny children entertainment out of fear they might aspire to be like something that doesn't exist in the real world and risk stiffling their creativity? Should we stop reading them books? Every little girl I know likes to emulate their favorite characters either through their hair or clothing or just things they by. This is a fact of the American culture. So in defense of the article I agree with we have to be very careful in what we tell girls at a very young age. This is the most crucial part of their developement and they are up against a lot as minorities. But Dora is one of the good guys.

This article though well written was not well researched and some of the facts are falsified. Therefor it can't be taken very seriously. But as for women and real life being role models I think that they are BUT with that being said we need to keep shows like Dora on the air. It shows a "REAL"-looking little girl and we must be carefully being overly critically of it.

I think articles like this are damaging.

Real vs TV

Give children more credit than is due.

"You have to understand how a preschooler's mind works to know how much stimulation is required to hold such a short attention span."

Matter of perspective. You expect a child to be a hyperactive over stimulated vibrating sponge, that's what you'll get. I don't know what you feed your children, (most likely refined sugar, kool-aid and cocoa puffs, fit in that category) yet this is the excuse I've come across several times from parents unwilling to be better parents and just lump it all into an excuse "over active, short attention span, toddler mind." That's the equivalent of blaming emotional outbursts on hormonal cycles.

A child is prone to model the behavior they are exposed to on a frequent basis (some exceptions to that rule) just as adults are also prone to model the behavior their exposed to on a frequent basis. I have witnessed young girls and boys imitate their mothers and fathers to being almost little versions of their parents.

Putting a child in front of a television more than real people is robbing them of developing interpersonal skills, and is a case for poor parenting.

Dora....who's Dora? She's not a substitute for real people. In the end, does Dora cook real food? Does she tuck children in at night? Nope, and nope. She's fictional, and in the end real people will be the ones to make a difference and contribution. 100 years from now, who will remember Dora? I talk about Rocky Balboa to some children born in the 1990's and the answer I get is "Rocky who?" Soon it'll be "Dora who?" and when that happens, when all the factories are in China, India, and Honduras, and no one in North America has a dollar to spare to buy the consumer goods because they have no jobs, that's when things will change! Rock bottom first, and then floating to the top. =)

Recession, keep on receding like a hairline until utter baldness! Soon the nakedness of overconsumption shall be exposed, and the contraction shall begin. Rogaine shall not save you! ( Rogaine: for all those who may not know is a liquid applied to the scalp to help stimulate hair growth. Proof of actual results has been limited. In other words, buy at your own risk, it may just be as effective to slap peanut butter on your bald scalp and see what happens. )

Catch you all later; I’m off to collect some Unemployment Insurance benefits while they’re still hot!

Hmm, I see I have not addressed the article presented. Everyone who has responded has presented some great points. Keep on typing, and hopefully you have made your stand to support mutually beneficial trade and commerce while also benefiting the environment and people all over the globe. In your level of activity, I truly desire for you to have taken on the task of becoming corporate officers, and/or extremely significant share holders, at some if not all of these corporations and have chosen to make a difference from the inside.

Peace and Love.

Let's prioritize a little.

I found myself getting angry while reading, not the article, but the comments. While the first part of the article is concerned with a critique of the cartoon character Dora, the rest (and majority) of the article is hitting on something much deeper and important. I find it hard to believe that what seemed to catch the eye of most was the brief discussion of a fictional character, and not the in-depth discussion of an economic system that endangers the lives of workers in order to make a profit. How it is that there is more concern over defending an animated TV series, than there is over women and men who are being exploited by the capitalistic system that underlies the production of consumer goods that are bi-products of such shows? There is a bigger picture here, and that is one of imperialism, class struggles and corporate greed. I can’t say if the description of Dora was accurate, but I can say that in regards to the conversation this article was actually trying to have, that it shouldn’t matter.

There needs to be a prioritizing of the issues we are fighting for.

I commend Lois Leveen for writing an article that addresses issues so many would rather (and clearly do) ignore.


The last comment noting readers' asymmetric reactions here reminds me of Michael Moore's observation about reactions to his film Roger & Me:

"In my first film, Roger & Me, a white woman on social security clubs a rabbit to death so that she can sell him as 'meat' instead of as a pet. I wish I had a nickel for every time in the past 10 years that someone has come up to me and told me how "horrified" they were when they saw that "poor little cute bunny" bonked on the head. The scene, they say, made them physically sick. The Motion Picture Association of America gave Roger & Me an R [18] rating in response to that rabbit killing. Teachers write to me and say they have to edit that part out of the film, if they want to show it to their students.

But less than two minutes after the bunny lady does her deed, I included footage of a scene in which police in Flint, Michigan, shot a black man who was wearing a Superman cape and holding a plastic toy gun. Not once - not ever - has anyone said to me, 'I can't believe you showed a black man being shot in your movie! How horrible! How disgusting! I couldn't sleep for weeks.' After all, he was just a black man, not a cute, cuddly bunny. The ratings board saw absolutely nothing wrong with that scene. Why? Because it's normal, natural. We've become so accustomed to seeing black men killed - in the movies and on the evening news - that we now accept it as standard operating procedure. No big deal! That's what blacks do - kill and die. Ho-hum. Pass the butter."

from this article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2002/mar/30/features.weekend

Dora, the Female Explorer

What a load of pretentious twaddle! The character of Dora was 'invented' by an English band in 1971, and appeared on the US versions of their eponymous album. The song has a rural English feel to it, with a traditional rhythmic accompaniment accentauted by the liberal use of an accordion. Seems as though she fooled you ...

Climbs up the mountains, to fool with you,
She never does the one thing you expect her to.
Underneath the clifftop, hanging by her teeth,
This girl will find adventure, right there at your feet.
Dora the female explorer has gone
Dora the female explorer has gone

Shooting down the rapids or diving fathoms deep,
Dora keeps you busy, she never lets you sleep.
Wet or windy weather rarely keeps her in,
If you want to make her happy,
Just ask her where she's been
Dora the female explorer has gone
Dora the female explorer has gone

Shooting down the rapids or diving fathoms deep,
Dora keeps you busy, she never lets you sleep.
Wet or windy weather rarely keeps her in,
If you want to make her happy,
Just ask her where she's been
Dora the female explorer has gone
Dora the female explorer has gone

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