How Dora the Explorer Explains the Immigration Debate

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Dora The Explorer is a popular children's cartoon about a young girl who explores the world with her best friend, Boots The Monkey. It is a heart-warming Nickolodeon program designed to teach children positivity, kindness, and open-mindedness. Dora's last name is Marquez--the character is Latina--so it was really only a matter of time until someone in the ugly and all-consuming immigration debate picked up Dora The Explorer as an opportunity to score political points.

The Associated Press' Sophia Tareen explores Dora's use as a political symbol in the immigration debate. Tareen begins with an unreproducible image designed to look like Dora's mugshot--picked up for illegal immigration--and goes from there.

But experts say the pictures and the rhetoric surrounding them online, in newspapers and at public rallies, reveal some Americans' attitudes about race, immigrants and where the immigration reform debate may be headed.

"Dora is kind of like a blank screen onto which people can project their thoughts and feelings about Latinos," said Erynn Masi de Casanova, a sociology professor at the University of Cincinnati. "They feel like they can say negative things because she's only a cartoon character."

Tareen catalogs the use of Dora as a political symbol:

Since the passage of the Arizona law -- which requires authorities to question people about their immigration status if there's reason to suspect they're in the country illegally -- Dora's life and immigration status have been scrutinized and mocked.

Several websites, including The Huffington Post, have narrated Dora's mock capture by immigration authorities. One picture circulating on Facebook shows an ad for a TV show called "Dora the Illegal Immigrant." On the Facebook page "Dora the Explorer is soo an Illegal Immigrant," there are several images showing her sailing through the air over the U.S.-Mexican border.

The A.P. reporter gets Nickolodeon's response.

Representatives from Nickelodeon declined to comment on Dora's background, and her place of birth or citizenship have never been clear." She has brown skin, dark hair and speaks Spanish with an American accent.

"She's always been ambiguously constructed," said Angharad Valdivia, who teaches media studies at the University of Illinois and has explored the issue. "In the U.S., the way we understand race is about putting people in categories, and we're uncomfortable with people we can't put into categories."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.