July 9 2004

Dora: Latina Heroine

She’s a caring friend always ready to stop and help someone in need

By Mari Leal

Fresh from winning a prestigious Peabody Award for Journalism, Dora the Explorer shook her bangs, flashed her contagious smile, said “We did it…we did it!” - and jumped along her little friends thru the magic forests and carpets of flowers of her imaginary world.

No doubt. Nickelodeon’s popular TV heroine is definitely a “hot” commodity and her bilingual world is becoming a very “cool” habitat indeed!

Dora –also the star of the multi-city tour Dora Live “Search for the City of Lost Toys”- has transcended the world of commercial television to become ‘a social phenomenon’. And the awesome and charismatic little girl who has become a much admired role-model to 3 to 7 year-olds, is making Spanish a very “cool” language to learn. A joyful and stereotype-breaking Latina who is enchanting children –and their parents!- as she chases butterflies or counts stars–in 2 languages!

The consequence? American children learning Spanish with glee and enthusiasm -and Latino children re-learning, or learning well for the first time, the language of their parents, which they were a bit idle to adopt. A terrific setting for becoming bilingual with very little effort -and lots of good times.

Dora -a heroine her creators at Nickelodeon call a “Pan Latina”- since her black straight hair and beautiful eyes could easily come from Mexican as well as Salvadorean or Colombian ancestry, has provoked a fabulous reaction among all children. And –especially- a surge of Hispanic pride among Latino children, whom not only ‘adore Dora’ (using a great Spanish play of words ‘Adoro a Dora’) but want to be bilingual like Dora –and have found a little girl –just like them!- that is widely admired and loved by all their Anglo young friends. Kathleen Herles, a New York based young girl of Peruvian descent is “the voice” of Dora. She was recently selected by Hispanic Magazine as part of their yearly selection of “Latinas of Excellence 2004”.

The creation of Nickelodeon’s Chris Gifford, Valerie Walsh and Eric Weiner, “Dora the Explorer” not only has become the number one program at the network but the merchandising that has generated grows and multiplies as the popularity of the little girls soars.

The show is also unique –according to Ms. Walsh- “because viewers are asked to be active participants — not only by answering questions, but by getting off the couch and moving their bodies. Parents tell us they know when Dora is on because they’ll see and hear their kids playing along with the show: counting, speaking Spanish, jumping, rowing, clapping, etc.” She also adds: “Dora is a problem solver who doesn’t give up when faced with obstacles. She’s a caring friend always ready to stop and help someone in need; and she’s an adventurer whose curiosity and spirit lead her to explore the world. Dora’s a role model not only for children, but for adults, too!”

Regarding the use of the Spanish language, Mr. Walsh adds “Educators believe that introducing a second language to a child before the age of 6 or 7 is an important factor in his/her ability to achieve fluency. For many of our preschool viewers, Dora is their first encounter with a foreign language. As such, the show might teach them a little Spanish and make them curious and interested in learning more, or simply make them aware of and comfortable with foreign languages. For our Spanish-speaking preschool viewers, seeing Dora use Spanish might encourage them to take pride in being bilingual.”

Of course, for Herb Scannell, MTV Networks Group President (which includes Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, TV Land, Noggin, and Spike TV)- Dora’s success is not enough to stay idle and rest in theirs laurels, but a reason to raise the bar and produce new shows. Mr. Scannell, who has received critical acclaim for his continued leadership and groundbreaking commitment to diversity with shows such as Dora The Explorer, The Brothers Garcia and the Nick Cannon Show- has just announced that Dora’s ‘family’ is growing —and her cousin Diego not only already made his debut at her show, but will have his own show starting in 2005. ¡Bravo!


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