So, What Does a Hispanic Look Like?

Oct 29, 2012

By: Laura Morales, Hispanic Media Relations & Business Writer

Which one is Hispanic?

Many of this blog’s readers – and particularly the ones with very young daughters – will likely have heard about Disney’s new addition to its ever-popular and lucrative Princess line-up: Sofia the First.

Apparently, Sofia was supposed to be a Latina; at least that’s what Disney said earlier this month. But one wouldn’t necessarily know that by looking at the character, notwithstanding the fact that she spells her name with an “f” – she’s a cute little white girl with auburn hair and blue eyes.

And, apparently, this has been ruffling a lot of Hispanic feathers, with commentators and representatives from Hispanic advocacy organizations bemoaning not only that Sofia doesn’t “look Latina,” but also the fact that Disney didn’t make the character’s race or ethnicity a selling point the way it did with Mulan (Chinese), Pocahontas (Native American) and Tiana (African-American).

The only indication that Sofia was supposed to be Hispanic was a throwaway comment made by Jamie Mitchell, executive producer of Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess, to Entertainment Weekly: “She is Latina…It’s sort of a matter-of-fact situation rather than an overt thing,” Mitchell said.

Upon seeing images of the character, many Hispanics (and non-Hispanics) tweeted their disappointment at her appearance:

@thecinemadoctor: “Looking at Disney’s Latina Princess, all I can say is “I guess Dora the Explorer cornered the market on Melanin.”

@carmelinamusic: “Wake me up when Disney’s first #Latina princess looks like me.”

In fact, all the criticism led Disney to retract Mitchell’s words. The company now claims that Sofia was never meant to be Latina – and that Mitchell “misspoke” – and that Disney Junior has a project in the pipeline that does feature a Latina heroine.

The Sofia flap got me thinking about all the times people have told me, “yes, you look Puerto Rican.”

It must be because I have skin the color of cinnamon – inherited from my father – and dark brown hair and eyes, which both my parents have. My mother is white, as is my whole maternal family. But we’re all boricuas and we’re all Latinos.

So telling me I “look Puerto Rican” is telling me nothing, because I could easily look like a native of any other Hispanic country. I even had a guy once tell me I look “Islamic,” which is like telling me I look Catholic or Presbyterian (I’m assuming he meant that, to him, I look Middle Eastern).

And I roll my eyes every time I have to fill out a form that calls for racial or ethnic identification but includes “Hispanic” as a category.  “Hispanic” is not a race or an ethnicity!

Being Hispanic is a function of language. The term comes from Hispania, the ancient Romans’ name for the Iberian Peninsula. Hispania eventually became “España,” the name of the peninsula’s largest country, Spain, which exported its principal language, Spanish (called castellano back then) to the Americas through its colonization of much of the New World.

There’s no particular way a Latino or Latina looks. There are plenty of white Hispanics with light hair and eyes. Just look at any telenovela and that’s all you’ll see: pretty white Latinos.

So, while part of me understands the Sofia controversy, an even bigger part is going “meh, what’s the big deal?” We come in all color combinations of skin, eyes and hair. And that’s beautiful. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Contact Us

Sign up for our insights on the convergence of business and PR