Princess Sofia and Why We Care About Her Mother’s Skin

I was absolultely fascinated yesterday with talk on the intertubez of a new Disney princess.  I mean, how could I not read story after story when the first story I came across was titled “Disney’s Latina Princess Sofia has Fair Skin and Blue Eyes.”

I had to google stalk mi hermana princesa a little bit and found this adorable picture of her:

Figure 1: Princess Sofia!!!

Then I took to my phone, texting Hathor, “The new little Disney princess is Latina!!  And she has pale ankles, blue eyes, and red hair!!!” Hathor replied, “Dude! You’re going to get your own action figure!!”

Perhaps not, as you’ll read subsequently, but you can imagine that the Internet lost its collective mind over what to do with a pale faced, blue eyed Hispanic:

My favorite was a tweet that asked whether “Sofia” was Latin enough.  Now, this is a tale that is, to use a Disney phrase, “as old as time.”  The question of how dark must a person be to be a “real Hispanic.”  The world had a similar conversation recently about whether Elizabeth Warren was a “real” Native American because, according to her self-indentified Caucasian opponent, she didn’t “look” Native American.  Still, it is apparent from listening to her that the experiences of her Native American ancestors are an integral part of who she is. The issue of identity can be challenging for those who are from mixed heritage and I recently had some very interesting conversations with Hathor about the question of how many generations of white marriage it takes until a person is forced to lose their “ethnic’ heritage…


Video 1: Carol Channig’s paternal grandfather was African American, although she didn’t reveal it until 2002 when she released her memoir.  Still, from her recent statements it is apparent that it shaped her identity.

And there is a phenomenal book I recently read called American Chica that deals with the identity issues of a pale-faced half-Peruvian woman. It’s a great read.

I digress.  Princess Sofia becomes a princess when her mother, a store owner, marries King Roland II.  But, what sparked the discussion of Princess Sofia’s ethnic identity was the appearance of her mother.

Figure 3: Queen Miranda is on the right.

At a recent press event a blogger asked why Queen Miranda’s skin is darker than Princess Sofia’s, which I will admit was subtle enough that I didn’t notice at first, and the executive producer replied, “She’s Latina.”  Since, Disney has clarified its position on Princess Sofia’s Facebook page:

As we approach the premiere of ‘Sofia the First’ on November 18, I wanted to check in here and thank you once again for your warm welcome for our new little princess. Some of you may have seen the recent news stories on whether Sofia is or isn’t a “Latina princess.”

What’s important to know is that Sofia is a fairytale girl who lives in a fairytale world. All our characters come from fantasy lands that may reflect elements of various cultures and ethnicities but none are meant to specifically represent those real world cultures. The writers have wisely chosen to write stories that include elements that will be familiar and relatable to kids from many different backgrounds including Spain and Latin America. For example, Sofia’s mom comes from a fictitious land, Galdiz, which was inspired by Spain.

There are wonderful  stories coming up in which Sofia and her family celebrate a winter holiday called Wassailia (reminiscent of a Scandinavian Christmas), and go on a picnic in Wei-Ling, an Asian-inspired kingdom. Most importantly, Sofia’s world reflects the ethnically diverse world we live in but it is not OUR world, it is a fairytale and storybook world that we hope will help spur a child’s imagination.

It’s one where we can have flying horses, schools led by fairies, songs that
have a Latin beat and towns with markets like those found in North Africa.
Together, this creates a world of diversity and inclusion that sends just the
right kind of message to all children — “Look around you, appreciate the
differences you see and celebrate what makes us all the same.” I am eager for
you and your children to meet Sofia and experience her world together!-

So, perhaps Princess Sofia wasn’t intended to be the first Latina princess and our conflict is reflected in our community’s desperation to see images that its youth can identify with. Maybe she was just intended to have a little bit of sabor. Or perhaps she is intended to be Latina. I don’t know and I am sure that there are people smarter than me that can dissect this issue down to its smallest bits.  What as made my ass twitch from the beginning is the way that it all started – with a blogger asking, “Why is her mother’s skin darker.”

Wht the hell kind of fucked up question is that?

Seriously, those kinds of questions get me lit.  As a woman from a multi-cultural family, I got these sorts of questions on a regular basis growing up.  I’ve got pretty much the same coloring as Princess Sofia, but I have a younger sister who looked like Dora the Explorer as a girl.  She’s 14 years younger than me and I frequently surprised her and picked her up from daycare when I was home from college.  Every time it was the same damned thing.  I would tell the fine folks that “I am her older sister and should have a note letting you know that I would be picking her up today” and they would reply, “Hold on a minute.  We’re going to need to check her folder and we’re going to need to see some ID.”  Even after all of the checking, I still got the behind-the-back stink eye as I walked my little brown sister to the car.  That “something just isn’t right” look.

Not every family looks the same.  I realize it is still shocking to many, but sometimes brown folks mate with light folks and make babies.  Sometimes people adopt children that don’t look like them.  Sometimes men and men raise children and sometimes women and women raise children.  Some parents divorce and have children that are raised by a step-parent.  Our feeling of entitlement as a society, our feelings of 0wnership over race and ethnic identity, demanding to know all the perceived-salacious details of mixed children’s parentage, infuriates me to no end.

So, Queen Miranda is one step over on the color wheel from Princess Sofia.  How many millions of children will relate to a child who isn’t the exact same color as her parents? Maybe she’s not the “perfect” Latina, but she is a princess that a lot of people will relate to.

But, more importanly to me, why are we not discussing the repeated use of the Disney trope where a minority woman needs to marry a man, especially a white man (here, King Roland II) in order to advance in society?  Pocahantas did it.  Tiana did.  Now Queen Miranda.

Maybe when Disney finally gives a a “real” Latina princess, she can decide to become a scientist and come up with a solution to global warming to save all the animals taht she talks to with her magical amulet.  Or something.  And I really don’t care if they give her dark eye and hair and skin, as long as they give her badass shoes.

Figure I Lost Count: Gucci’s Bright Pump in orange. $269.95 at DSW.

 

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28 responses to “Princess Sofia and Why We Care About Her Mother’s Skin

  1. Have to be a princess to afford * that* foot rack….

  2. By my accounting, the Disney princesses are Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana and Rapunzel… I *think* Mulan is the only one who doesn’t get married (googlefu tells me at least not until the sequel, which I’d never heard of)? And I think of Jasmine as the only one who clearly ‘marries down’ and/or is not clearly rescued.
    Thus, it’s *only* minority Disney women who can advance in life without a suitable prince. At least, before Merida (who might, arguably, not be Disney but rather Pixar).

  3. Juniper Shoemaker

    What as made my ass twitch from the beginning is the way that it all started – with a blogger asking, “Why is her mother’s skin darker.” Wht the hell kind of fucked up question is that?

    I think most of American society unwittingly subscribes to the “blending hypothesis”.

  4. Juniper Shoemaker

    Good lord, that dumbfuck Becca who only chose a science major because writing coherently was too hard for her is still commenting on this blog?

  5. Smiled when reading your recommendation of “American Chica”–one of our postdocs is half-Peruvian, and has dirty blonde hair and pale skin with freckles!

    I think there’s a certain subset of white men who find minority women very intriguing–my dad and my ex-husband among them. I know a number of minority women who would love to marry someone “as brown as them” but all the men of their ethnic background want to date/marry blondes…

    Men have unexpected tastes in women. That’s all I can say.

  6. Potnia Theron

    Hey Juniper, lay the fuck off Becca.

  7. Juniper Shoemaker

    Why? She certainly didn’t lay the fuck off me.

  8. Stick to your guns Juniper.

  9. Potnia Theron

    Critique the content, not the style or delivery.

  10. Juniper Shoemaker

    No, Potnia, I am responding to the content of Becca’s way-out-of-bounds pop-psychoanalysis of me, a person she doesn’t know in real life, as well as her numerous disingenuous comments directed toward other people. Plus, I am demonstrating that she shouldn’t dish out what she isn’t willing to receive in return.

    Brown Grad: Thanks.

  11. Isis the Scientist

    Potnia, I realize that Juniper’s comments might not be your style, but I’d use caution in calling folks to civility when discussing race, much like we do when discussing feminist issues. I think Juniper has perspectives that the readers of this blog could learn a lot from.

  12. Back to topic … I think this is a fantastic post. Very thoughtful, and true.

    My experiences are the opposite side of the same coin as those described by Isis, but I think just as annoying. I have the colouring of a southern European although I am not. (Oral family history has it that my father’s ancestors left Spain because of the Inquisition and ended up in England, but there is no written document to back this up, and it was several hundred years ago). I married someone with fair skin and blue eyes, whose family were Vikings at about the same time my family allegedly left Spain and eventually also ended up in England. Each of my three kids has completely different colourings of skin, hair and eyes. I have similar experiences to Isis about attitudes to me trying to collect them from places where people didn’t know me, and even someone arguing with me that my son must be adopted because as a baby he had very fair hair.

    The ‘where are you from’ question, was common when I was a teenager and lived in a town (in Australia) which has many southern European migrants; but now I am nearly 65 in a society that prides itself on being Multicultural with a Captial M, I thought no-one asked this any more. I was wrong. Even though my skin and hair colour are rather faded, someone at a party asked me That Question AGAIN. My standard answer ‘Australia’. The standard reply ‘well, where do your parents come from’ (quite relevant in Oz where 40% of people have a parent born elsewhere). In my case, however, the standard answer is ‘Australia – they were both born here, as were three of my grandparents, and before that they all came from England’.

    And some people won’t leave it there, but try to probe and probe as if I am not telling them some important piece of information that they are entitled to know. Very rude people. As if it matters.

  13. Juniper Shoemaker

    Wow. I don’t know if I deserve that much credit, Isis, but thank you.

    I spent some time thinking about Disney’s answer to the question. It amounts to this: “All of these characters’ races are just analogues of real-world ones, and they all live in a fairytale world, so there is no reason to think at all about Sofia’s fair coloring. But she’s relatable to children from a broad array of racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, which probably includes children who have to think about what their coloring, physiognomy and/or national origin mean to other people. Also, ‘race’, ‘culture’ and ‘ethnicity’ are all the same thing.” This is well-intentioned and predictable. I’m not angry about it, though. When I was a little girl, I was sensitive not only to the fair complexions of Disney Princesses but also their stereotypically European physiognomy (i.e., large round eyes with no epicanthal folds and thin, little noses). This physiognomy rarely changes even when the complexions get darker. The Disney Princess genre is fun but limited. If you want a fairy tale with fewer limits, you have to tell a different kind of fairy tale. At this point, I’m just glad they added a Latina (“Latina”?) princess.

    But, more importanly to me, why are we not discussing the repeated use of the Disney trope where a minority woman needs to marry a man, especially a white man (here, King Roland II) in order to advance in society?

    I never saw The Princess and the Frog, but when I heard that Princess Tiana was allowed to have a white boyfriend, my first thought was “Thank god.” I grew up watching movies and reading books wherein it was occasionally acceptable for “honorary whites” such as Asians to date the hot white boys but it was never acceptable for black girls such as myself to do so. I was living in predominantly white communities, having crushes on little white boys, and most of their parents seemed to have the same attitude. I got the impression that my black half made me gross and untouchable, like a monkey. This hurt.

  14. As a fair-skinned Latina, this particular issue makes my blood boil. I am sick and tired of both friends and colleagues casually commenting that I’m “not /really Hispanic,” since to them I don’t immediately appear to be so. I debate whether I should be more verbally open about my background (not that I’m hiding anything, but apparently since I have freckles, I can’t possibly be Latina) or just ignore it and move on. I am damn proud of my background, but I have a feeling I come off as trying to “prove” that I’m Hispanic when I discuss my family. It’s a catch-22, I suppose.

    Thanks for the post, Isis! I’m going to check out American Chica.

  15. Potnia Theron

    @ juniper, et al: I stand (or rather sit) corrected. I did not know of the history, only saw a belittling comment.

  16. I’m the adoptive mother of a Hispanic child who came into my home as a deeply traumatized foster child. I’m Caucasian. In my community, it is not unusual to see multi-ethnic families formed through adoption. The majority that I run into are Caucasian families who have adopted their daughters from China. The reasons behind their family are obvious and no one questions it. My family, however, does get questioned.

    I get asked “Where is (child) from?” I say “Here” or name our state. That evokes “No. Where is (child) from? You know…” They are trying to ask about my child’s ethnic heritage and frequently expect me to respond with a tale of traveling abroad to save a child from an orphanage. That’s not our story and our story is none of their business. They don’t need to know that my anxious little one is a survivor of multiple forms of abuse or that we have to deal with PTSD on a daily basis as a result. Telling these people of my child’s ethnic heritage will not explain why this child is MY child. You see, my child wasn’t abused because the birth family was from a particular country or from a particular ethnic or cultural group. My child was abused because the birth family is trapped in their own cycles of violence, drug use, alcoholism and mental illness.

    The majority of the questions about my family are directed to us by Hispanics who are either immigrants or first generation Americans. The more likely someone is going to respond with shock when my child calls me “Mama” or when I respond with an answer in Spanish, the more likely I’m going to be questioned. Now that I think about it, the questions never have come from men and have never been asked if my husband is around. Why is this the case?

    The part that makes me smile in all this is when the kids at daycare, a diverse group in all honesty, greet me with “Hi (child)’s Mom!” and even better is when they turn to their parents and say “That’s (child)’s Mom!” and the adults respond with “She IS?” Oh yes, honey, this beautiful child is mine even if we don’t look alike.

  17. Actually, I only chose a science major cause I was afraid of winding up a starving artist. Science job market says to me: “HAHA jokes on you!!!”

    As an aside, I think it’s reasonable to point out Tiana and Naveen could be an interracial couple, but I’m not sure Naveen is meant to be white (he’s got lighter skin than Tiana, but not so light as Lottie; it’s a Hindi name; and it’s voice-acted by a Brazilian. Make of that what you will).
    Although I’m curious if anyone feels the “marrying up” aspect of Princess and the Frog is intensified by the racial component. Basically, I’d argue that it’s not that Disney only tells stories about womenfolks lives being improved by romance for minority women, but that those stories have a much different cultural resonance when they are about minorities. I liked the Princess and the Frog as a story, but I had to totally block all analysis of race and gender.
    Clearly, Disney’s next story should be about a Latina princess that flat out rescues her prince charming, and then leaves him for a cobbler’s daughter (of some non-white race).

  18. The real question is why that useless slacker Naveen held any attraction for Tiana in the first place. Totes bogus.

    Also, story *completely* undercut the hard-work-pays myth…. Tiana only got her restaurant through deep pockets angel investment (slash, marrying rich). More true than not in reality but a dismal ending to an inspirational story.

  19. Pingback: Oh!? But you’re white, how come ?? You’re a latina!? | 27 and a PhD

  20. as a male the whole princess thing is foreign territory..

    It seemed to me that they are all bond hair and blue eyes and then you just call them “Latina” or “American Indian” and go from there. but I guess “Ariel” had red hair (google) and Princess Miranda “Mindy” Neptune was green with blue hair so that does not hold up under analysis…

  21. Juniper Shoemaker

    Actually, I only chose a science major cause I was afraid of winding up a starving artist. Science job market says to me: “HAHA jokes on you!!!”

    Nah. You chose a science major for the reason that I stated. If you disagree with me, that’s only because you’re secretly afraid to tell the truth. I don’t know you in real life, and I have no training as a professional psychologist or therapist, but I can still read your mind due to the putatively righteous indignation that I congratulate myself for feeling over social justice issues but that I’m convinced no one else shares. So there.

    Oh, and this is off-topic. I know. But it is more important that I have the last word on every blog comment thread that ever arose ever than it is for me not to derail the conversation. I think I am very clever.

    /end sarcasm

    For the record, I want to make it clear given one of my previous comments that I think it’s great that Disney created a Latina princess with fair skin, red hair and blue eyes. This doesn’t make her “inauthentically Latina”. It just means she’s . . . a Latina. Some of us paid attention in our grade-school history and science classes and figured out that the astonishing variety of “Hispanic” complexions that resulted from the Spanish invasion of Meso- and South America as well as the, um, international nature of the Atlantic Slave Trade made perfect sense. It’s amazing what many people will forget.

    I have no Hispanic/Latin heritage, but I am biracial. Some of the commenters with Hispanic/Latin heritage have talked about experiences that are similar to mine. Random-ass people mysteriously don’t get that interracial families look . . . interracial. Random-ass people didn’t think it was weird when half-white, half-Asian kids proudly claimed their Asian heritage but downright tried to forbid me from claiming mine. Mom got the stink-eye when toting me about in public as a child because no one could understand how a Korean woman wound up with such a brown baby. Dad got the stink-eye when toting me about when my hair was Asian-straight because people thought I was American Indian. I never want to inflict that on anybody.

  22. I still crack up that my blond, blue eyed son is the token latino in his second grade class.

  23. Nothing to add on the princess front, but I’d just like to say that there should be a Doctor Isis action figure.

  24. Isis the Scientist

    I know a guy who sketches up a spot on Isis…

    Do I get a tiara?

  25. Tiara, yes, but no capes, darling.

  26. Tiara, science grip, and a cabinet of super-shoes. Action Bike sold separately.

  27. Pingback: Princess Sofia » Live Free Chipamogli

  28. Pingback: Being Overwhelmed is Way Scarier Than a Paranormal Activity Movie | Kathryn B. H. Clancy, PhD

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