Last week, Disney announced that a new princess would soon be coming to television: Elena of Avalor. She will be Disney's first Latina princess. The news, of course, spread like wildfire and many news outlets were celebrating Disney's move toward cultural diversity. Hell, even Saturday Night Live included the story in its "Weekend Update."
Not only does this announcement hit close to home because so many of us identify as Hispanic or Latino, but also because the actress who will voice the animated character grew up in Miami. Dominican-born, Miami-raised actress Aimee Carrero will make history with her latest role.
See also: Aimee Carrero: Storyteller on Stage
I had the pleasure of interviewing Carrero late last year when she was featured in our Miami People 2014 issue, and during our conversation, she mentioned she had some exciting news that involved working with Disney animation. She couldn't share anything other than it would be huge. And Carrero was right -- the news is huge.
With this new role, Carrero accepts the responsibility of representing us all, because Disney has never before assigned a Hispanic ethnicity to one of its princesses. Having a princess like Elena will allow people like me, first-generation Latino-Americans, to feel more included and valued.
Representation in film and television is more important than it might initially seem. It gives people -- especially children -- a kind of confidence knowing they're represented in mainstream entertainment. Disney is a touchstone for most children. My own childhood memories are filled with trips to Disney World and family nights revolving around rewatching Disney's animated films.
But when I was growing up, I didn't have a figure on television that I could relate to. Instead, I forced myself to make connections: The Little Mermaid's Ariel had red hair, and my hair had red tints -- bingo. Aurora from Sleeping Beauty wore a pink dress at one point in her movie, and well, my favorite color is pink. Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame had a pet goat, and I like animals, so now I like Esmeralda.
Young Latina girls today are growing up watching characters like Elsa in Frozen with snowy blond hair and beautiful blue eyes, and they cannot see themselves in her. They can't fantasize about what it would be like to be ruler of Arendelle because they look nothing like what they see onscreen. Disney's version of beauty and power were simply not for girls who looked like me.
But by introducing a heroine whose background resembles their own -- whose brown locks and brown eyes look like theirs -- young girls can now properly identify with a princess. They can quite literally see themselves in this new character of Elena, and that is monumental. It's exciting to be living in a time when so much positive change is happening and every day we're seeing increasingly positive and powerful roles for women and, most important, Latina women.
I'm also happy that a real Latina was chosen to voice Elena, rather than picking a famous name. And in my opinion, Disney could not have chosen a better woman to be the voice of a girl who will not only usher in positive change but also, for generations to come, inspire Latinos everywhere.
Keep making us proud, Aimee.
Elena of Avalon is scheduled to debut in 2016. In the meantime, catch Aimee Carrero in season two of ABC Family's Young and Hungry, premiering in March.
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