Latino Media Arts & Studies hosts Illinois professor to discuss Latino representation in Disney

Amanda Figueroa-Nieves

A Latina/Latino studies professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign discussed the ethnically ambiguous representation of Latinidad in Disney films and shows in a Thursday lecture at the Belo Center for New Media.

The UT Latino Media Arts & Studies program presented Angharad Valdivia’s lecture, “What’s up with Disney and Latinidad? Princesses and Girls Who are Stuck in the Middle,” to more than 75 UT students and faculty. Program director Mary Beltrán called Valdivia one of the most important scholars in Latino media studies.

“Valdivia has been doing this work for 20 years, which is far longer than most of us,” Beltrán said. “She’s actually mentored a lot of the other professors and scholars in Latino media studies, and I’m very excited to be able to bring her in.”


One of Valdivia’s main points is that Latino representation in the media is made ambiguous to be more attractive to audiences. Latinidad refers to the representation of Latin American culture in America. She said there are two main tropes used for Latinidad in media: tropical and Mexican. Mexicans are typically portrayed as being symbolic of Mexico, while “tropical” Latino people are symbolic of upper-class Americans, Valdivia said. 

“These serve largely to lump and differentiate categories of Latinos into a binary of tradition,” Valdivia said. 

Valdivia said the media shows Latinos and their families in certain stereotypical celebrations, such as Quinceañeras, the Day of the Dead and Navidad. Valdivia said American media prefers to hire talent from Latin America, rather than from Latino people in the United States.

Valdivia also discussed Disney’s branding of Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato, who are both daughters of interracial couples.

“It does almost seem like Disney purposefully likes to cast these young ladies who are mixed Caucasian, Latino and Italian because I think that gives them the somatic look that they are looking for to interpolate different members of the audience without repelling racist members of the audience,” Valdivia said.

Harley Gutierrez, a psychology and Plan II freshman, said the presentation reminded people of how Latinidad in media is usually not the same as Latinidad in real life.

“It reiterated that it’s important for audience members and viewers of media, especially when you’re watching Disney channel, to acknowledge that the portrayal of Latinas in popular culture is often a more palatable version of what Latinidad is,” Gutierrez said.