There’s been some outrage recently over the Mexico Barbie® Doll that Mattel released last year. I don’t understand what the big deal is. They’ve been doing international dolls for years now. The Dolls of the World series is not meant to represent examples of modern women in the now ubiquitous jeans and t-shirts now found around the world. Instead, I believe the series is focusing on culture and the traditional costumes from each country. I personally am thrilled to see a big company like Mattel preserving these beautiful and historical costumes that are rich in symbolism, meaning, and history.
And no, this is not the first Mexico doll they’ve produced, either. I remember buying one years ago at a Walmart. I was so thrilled to find one wearing one of the many traditional outfits from Mexico. I think it was the Cinco de Mayo Barbie. But I remember thinking, “FINALLY! Our culture and history is being appreciated!”
Part of the outrage seems to stem from the fact that Mexico Barbie comes with a passport. So? All of the dolls in this series come with passports – which I love. What does a passport have to do with immigration or being “legal?” For me, a passport is a symbol of international travel and global communication and relationships. Now, if she had come with a green card, THEN I think it would be offensive and worth shouting about!
When I go to Spain, I see dolls wearing flamenco dresses with matillas, mantones de Manilla, combs, and sometimes castanets. I don’t see that as being demeaning. Women don’t walk around Spain wearing those costumes every day. But in Spain, that is a way of preserving their culture and showing orgullo. Why don’t we let ourselves do the same?
I do have to say, though, that I’m not impressed by the chihuahua in Mexico Barbie’s arms. But after looking at all of the dolls, it looks like 2012 was the “give every doll an animal friend” year. I get it. Kids like animals. But I don’t assume that every Indian woman walks around with a monkey(!) on her arm, or that every Australian woman has a pet koala, or that every woman in Hawaii lugs around an endangered sea turtle.
I don’t like looking for things to get upset about. I think it is important for companies to recognize our culture and to make attempts to mainstream them with toys and other products. When I was a little girl, I would have loved to have owned a Barbie that actually looked like me and that wore one of the traditional costumes I would see twice a year at the 16 de septiembre or Cinco de Mayo events we attended and celebrated. I always thought the folklorico dancers were so beautiful, and I secretly longed for a dress like theirs.
We finally see a doll in cultural costume produced by a big company… and we’re complaining. They can’t win. I’d hate to see them discontinue the line, because these dolls are a great educational tool for teaching cultural studies and discussing history. We’ve already seen banned books and ethnic studies programs. Let’s not do the same to other cultural products. They’re so important for helping our children find pride in their heritage and its history. Why make our kids continue to feel ashamed? Boo.
Monica Olivera Hazelton, NBC Latino contributor and the founder and publisher of MommyMaestra.com, a site for Latino families that homeschool, as well as families with children in a traditional school setting who want to take a more active role in their children’s education. She is the 2011 winner of the “Best Latina Education Blogger” award by LATISM.