Carmen Sandiego: America’s Most Positive Latina Role Model?

If you grew up in the 1990s, chances are you either played the video game or watched the game show adaptation of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? The premise was simple: Sandiego was a rouge ex-spy, traveling the world and stealing historic treasures and monuments. The players would assume the role of Interpol agents (in later versions, detectives with Acme Detective Agency) to hunt down the elusive thief using historic and geographic clues.

The most obvious benefit of the game is in motivating students to learn more about the world. But Frances Martel of the girl-geek blog The Mary Sue pointed out another impact Sandiego had on the generation of kids watching and playing – she provided an intelligent, successful, cool role model for young Latin American girls to look up to. Martel writes:

Much of pop culture engrains in the minds of young Latinas very early on what American society entitles them to. Granted, it is far more than most Latinas would in most of their home countries, the current wave of female presidents in the Southern Hemisphere notwithstanding, but the range of careers and lifestyles is still sorely lacking: models, singers, ballerinas, sex objects. The spectrum ranging from Shakira to Jennifer Lopez [Editors note: Lopez, coincidentally enough, is producing a Carmen Sandiego movie with Walden Media] doesn’t leave much space for academics and politicians on it, even if you add in the scantily clad “journalists” on Primer Impacto.

Sandiego flies in the face of all of this: she is not scantily clad; she reads and thinks. She is a CEO in her own right—a CEO in a corporate entity designed for larceny, but a CEO nonetheless. American pop culture is not exactly saturated with images of female finance mogul or law professors or, really, any job that requires education—and if our dreams don’t require it, why should young girls bother doing well in school?

Martel also notes that those questioning Sandiego’s value as a role model because of her criminal activities are ignoring a tradition of “heroic” bandits in the media. From Indiana Jones to Nicolas Cage, we see thieves routinely held up as heroes despite their morally-questionable activities.

And I think Martel’s right – Carmen Sandiego does give girls something to aspire to. Not specifically a life of crime, but a life of importance. There are so few examples of what a competent, successful Latina woman looks like in the media – and it’s wonderful to realize that, even in the infancy of the video game industry, there was at least one game working to remedy that problem.


Related Stories:

“Active” Video Games Don’t Make Kids More Active

Can Playing Video Games Make Your Child More Creative?

Video Game Use Explodes Amongst Preschoolers

Photo credit: Joshua Rothhaas


Carole R
Carole R6 months ago

Thanks for posting.

Andrea A.
Andrea A7 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Emily M.
Emily M7 years ago

Shakira and Jennifer Lopez can't be role models for young Latinas because they are sexual singers and dancers. But Carmen Sandiego can be a role model for young Latinas, even though she's a fictional cartoon character who commits crimes. Gotta love that logic!

Past Member
Past Member 7 years ago

ROFL! I never really thought of her as Latina, but yes I can definitely see her as a positive (if, admittedly, larcenous) role model!

Stephen Greg
Jason T7 years ago

I grew up watching the TV shows and playing the video games. Good times. Now I'll have to go to youtube and listen to the shows theme songs for old-times sake.

Giovanna M.
Giovanna M7 years ago

Sad indeed.
I played the "Where in Time is Camen Sandiego?" game as a kid. I don't remember ever being told Carmen Sandiego "reads and thinks". I basically remember the game was fun, not very hard, the bandits were parodies, and Carmen never did much herself.
Leaving her taste for clothes aside, if we assume that someone is cool, clever and learned simply because she is the head of a group of inept bandits that do the dirty work for her and get caught more often than not; then maybe we should look up to Al Capone as the non plus ultra of ingenuity and style.
You don't need education to be a thief. Watching many of our politicians should be proof enough of that.

Warren Souders
Mr Pat Souders7 years ago

Is she a 'rouge' spy because of her red jacket?? Or does someone not know how to spell 'rogue'??

Monique D.
Mon D7 years ago

i remember both the show & game

Don Lukenbill
Don L7 years ago

What about Dora the Explorer?

Amie K.
Amie K7 years ago

Ditto that, Elaine P! :-)