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  • Dani Orozco & Cristina Rivera

Rosie's Rules and the Making of Inclusive TV: An Interview with Mariana Díaz-Wionczek


Have you seen the animated kid’s TV series, Rosie’s Rules? If not, hop on the PBS Kids website or app. and you can catch it for free.

 

In the series, we follow the daily life of a multicultural and biracial family who live in a San Antonio, Texas suburb. During each episode, the show’s central hero—Rosie—embarks on exciting adventures to understand her surrounding environment with the help of her family. She has a father from Mexico City (Papá Fuentes), a mother from Wisconsin (Liz Fuentes), a teenage sister (Crystal), a baby brother (Iggy), a hip grandmother who lives in Mexico (Abuela), a best friend / cousin (Javi), and a supportive aunt (Tía Margarita). When Rosie has questions about how things work in and around her home or within her community—from learning about electricity to how to mail letters—everyone pitches in to help her on her path of discovery, even her faithful animal companion and partner-in-crime, Gatita.

 

Upon the show’s premiere, Cristina Rivera and I had the opportunity to interview one of the central showrunners and executive producer, Mariana Díaz-Wionczek. Díaz-Wionczek, Ph.D., is a psychologist, multicultural specialist, and media consultant who has dedicated her life in advocating for more diversity and inclusion on screen. Her expertise can be seen in shows like Dora the Explorer, Go, Diego! Go!, and Santiago of the Seas. She is currently a professor at NYU and leads research and development for Rosie’s Rules.

 

During our time together, we discussed Latinx children’s media, representation, identity—and the meaning of “rules,” and exactly why Rosie has those impactful “flop” moments.

 

Dani Orozco: We’re excited to have this conversation with you! We're thrilled that Rosie's Rules is free at the PBS Kids website and app where viewers can learn more about Rosie, her family, and her adventures. Porfa, can you tell us about Rosita, y su familia?

Mariana Díaz-Wionczek: Sí, gracias! I love talking about Rosie. The show targets preschoolers ages two to six that depicts a mixed, bicultural family. It's a comedic show—a family sitcom for preschoolers that's full of humor, learning, and culture.

  

Cristina Rivera: Rosie's Rules has been described as having content that features social studies, geography, economics, and history for pre-K audiences. How did this focus as an educational come about? What does Rosie's Rules do differently from Dora the Exploerer?

MDW: This question of comparing kids shows that have Latina leads has me asking, would we ask the same question if the character was not from an underrepresented group? So, I offer a counter-question for consideration: Why are we asking the question when the characters are Latinas? Likely not! But what I can tell you here is everything that Rosie is. It’s a sitcom, but with important ingredients added: Culture + Comedy + Curriculum.

It’s a sitcom, but with important ingredients added: Culture + Comedy + Curriculum.

When Jen Hamburg created the show, she was inspired by the curiosity of her own then pre-school children. They were asking questions about the world and coming up with ideas on how things worked by gathering bits of information from here and there. Using their imagination, they would patch all this information together and create a theory or a hypothesis of how things work. For Jen, this was the springboard to all stories that could be told about how the world works. This is also the age when kids are starting to expand their social world from family to the community then society. This backdrop was the inspiration for Jen’s creating of Rosie Rules.

 

Rosie’s very inquisitive and creative in coming up with answers to her questions. How does the mail work, or how does milk make it to the supermarket, etc. The “what-we-know-what-we-gotta-know” songs work as the springboard to every episode.  The show goes into this sequence with Rosie creating a fantastical, exciting explanation. As each episode unfolds, Rosie acquires new information about questions asked. So, there’s Rosie’s rules: her explanations about how the world works. And there’s Rosie incorporating what she’s learned from different areas of knowledge into her understanding of how the world works. This all happens through the point-of-view of a funny and fun five-year-old girl. And there’s the third ingredient of culture, mindfully using language and tradition to portray family and community.

 

CR: Considering that Latinx children are underrepresented in US TV, what do you hope for with the show’s reach and impact?

MDW: For it to have impact, the content must be authentic and intentional. In general, we know that all kids benefit from this inclusive content, helping develop positively their identities by helping them better understand who they are and who they want to be in the future. For non-Latino audiences, seeing diverse families, communities, food, music, and places they might not have seen or heard before will enrich their lives. Rosie’s Rule promotes empathy, understanding, and respect.

In general, we know that all kids benefit from this inclusive content, helping develop positively their identities by helping them better understand who they are and who they want to be in the future.

CR: The research and commonsense tell us that kid’s benefit from seeing themselves reflected on screens.

MDW: Media content reflects society, so when they are represented, they fell seen and validated. If a child doesn’t see themself reflected in the media, it’s as if they don't exist in society. It negatively affects their self-esteem, impacting all aspects of their lives like academics, socialization, and so on.

 

CR: Rosie Rules features a mixed bicultural family.

MDW: Mom’s from rural Wisconsin and has a from before called Crystal. Papá’s from Mexico City. They have Rosie and Iggy, and together, they’re the Fuentes. There’s also Papa’s sister, Tía, whose son Javi is Rosie's age and whose personality complements Rosie’s.

There’s also the abuela (she lives in Mexico City) who has regular video calls with the family, mirroring the way many children communicate with grandparents living in their countries of origin.

 

CR: Abuela isn’t confined to the domestic as one often sees in Latino-focused stories. 

MDW: Abuela is always out and about doing things and enjoying life. She has two best friends—a rich and active social life. She's not isolated at all. She's out in the world. At the same time, we see a grandparent who can be loving from far away.

 

CR: The show pays close attention to making the Fuentes home in Texas feel authentic.

MDW: We want the home’s design to feel true to those on the team who are Latino. Little details like the molcajete and tortilla basket in the kitchen. Mexican embroidered pillows on the couch—details that feel relatable and authentic.

 

CR: Language in the show?

MDW: The content is mostly in English, obviously, with some catchphrases and words in Spanish; in the Spanish version of the show, the characters speak Spanish with a few phrases in English. Papá is like me. He came to the US as an adult. He speaks with an accent like I do. With Rosie, he speaks both in English and Spanish. We don't translate the Spanish because that's not how real bilingual families speak. Bilingual families have one system of communication that consists of two languages, and the flow is very smooth. So, that's how we do it in the show.  We want Rosie’s Rules to promote positive, holistic, and authentic representations of Latino families in the US.

 

CR: Is your creative team diverse?

MDW: I've been an advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion in kids TV for years—and not just in front of the camera, but also behind the camera. It’s a Latino show, so we have designers, animators, music composers that are Latino. We do our due diligence to find this talent.

 

CR: What would you recommend for future Latinx children’s media creators who want to create the next generation of television?

MDW: Network a lot. It’s our time. It’s a time for diversity. So, I would say, seize that and go knock on a lot of doors. In the past, my experience—as a more senior person—was that your lived stories or experiences weren’t as relevant in the workplace. But now, they have become more relevant in our industry. When you go into a job interview, don't be shy sharing the personal lived experiences that are relevant to that project. Have your voice heard. Tell your story. Additionally, if you’re working on a show and something feels off to you, call it out to your team so your voice can be incorporated into the creative decisions.

 

DO: Can you tell us why show is named, Rosie's Rules?

MDW: The name of the show has evolved. Rosalía or Rosie was a name that we picked after I joined the team; the previous name didn't reflect a Latina identity. As far as Rules in the title, it directs us to how Rosie creates rules from a very inquisitive, forward thinking, funny, and considerate place.

 


They are Rosie’s rules because they can be whatever Rosie wants them to be; they don't have to be rigid. They are the theories and hypotheses about how the world works dreamed up by a five-year-old Latina that change as she learns new information. The rules shift even within one episode as she incorporates new knowledge into her rules.

 

DO: Rosie has her moments where she flops.

MDW: It’s her self-regulation little moment in every show. She’s exploring and trying things repeatedly, then hits a wall. Before losing it, she flops. Like she says, “I'm gonna flop. I'm gonna do this thing that has helped me in the past, which is breathe in, breathe out, and wiggle about, and then she's ready to figure it out.”

 

DO: I introduced this fantastic mantra to my partner. For him to say when he’s stressed out. The self-regulation, the ability to feel your feelings, allow yourself to be silly, and then regroup and solve the task at hand. The mantra must mean so much to chamacos and their familias.

 

CR: From both of us, I want to thank you for doing the work that needs to be done so gracefully. I know Rosie’s Rules touches and inspires children everywhere to grow empathetic ways of being.


MDW: Thank you! I hope you both keep enjoying the show and recommending it to friends!


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