As the screen illuminates on a young girl riding a flying jaguar (later revealed to be a jaquin), a strummy guitarra tune cordially invites you into the fantasy world of Avalor, a kingdom “old and grand” wherein several customs well known to Latinxs across the world are practiced: Dia de los Muertos and Nochebuena, for example. Soon enough, we are caught up in the world of Elena, a young princesa who has just barely inherited the throne after being stuck in an amulet for forty years.
With her family and friends by her side, however, she is ready to learn the ropes and hopefully rule Avalor alone one day as well. Her abuelo is funny and loves to sing and play the guitar; her abuela is charming, sweet, and loves to cook. Isabella is a creative inventor and Elena’s loving younger sister. Her friends Naomi, Gabe, and Mateo help to create an energetic atmosphere where young Latinx kids not only see themselves and their traditions, but can share those customs with their friends who may not experience them. Elena of Avalor successfully strings together commonalities in the Latinx community for a fun and creative children’s show that highlights the importance of bravery, family, and friendship.
Upon the announcement of the newest addition to the Disney family, many longtime fans of the famous network were excited, and for a very obvious reason: Elena was set to be the first Latina princess in Disney history.
— Latina Magazine (@Latina) June 29, 2016
However, despite the show’s success, it has been met with criticism as well. Some claim it to be too generalized: Latino communities across Central and South America and the Carribean are so incredibly diverse and multifaceted that they cannot possibly be completely erased in a single, homogenous kingdom that takes a little bit from all of them. Likewise, some have criticized that a story about Latinx culture completely separated from the deeply tied strings of colonialism in Latin America is practically impossible–making Elena, a princess of unknown descent in a separated and fictional fantasyworld, not very “Latina” at all.
Elena provided a bilingual voice in children’s TV that was previously occupied by Dora the Explorer and her gang — who, I should also mention, is never explicitly said to be from any certain culture or country — and gave it a new life.
As a Cuban-American young woman that is also very enamored with children’s television and media, finding out about Elena was life changing. Voiced by Aimee Carrero of the ABC sitcom Young & Hungry (and more importantly, I believe, the “Sh*t Miami Girls Say” video), Elena provided a bilingual voice in children’s TV that was previously occupied by Dora the Explorer and her gang–who, I should also mention, is never explicitly said to be from any certain culture or country–and gave it a new life.
Elena is teaching young girls and boys of all ethnicities and races everyday that it’s okay to be brave, adventurous, and daring. That paella is delicious (it is) and that it isn’t okay to put down someone else’s experiences simply because they aren’t yours (it’s not). She teaches us that it’s okay to sing in Spanish and eat the food of our cultures, while also providing a space within American television where we are encouraged to do so. Most of all, Elena proves that it’s okay for Latina girls to see a princess that looks and talks like them. A princess that eats their food and dances to the same beat.
Elena of Avalor puts Latinx culture on the map, proving that it is not only marketable, but extremely so; in fact, Elena has already been renewed for two more seasons. She is the first princess of Latin descent, but most certainly not the last.
Are there issues with the characterization and world building? Yes, and they should not be ignored by any means.
Do these issues erase the impact Elena has had on the Latin American community and it’s youth? Well, I’d certainly hope not. We need more Elenas, Gabes, Isabellas, and Mateos in children’s TV–Elena of Avalor is only the beginning.