Real American Girls

Leah sent me an email the other day telling me about the new troupe of American Girl dolls. Once upon a time, there were only five. Now, I don’t even know what’s going on, it’s so crazy.

But it reminded me of the birth of my activism, if you can call it that. Sometime when I was about ten or eleven, I decided that whoever came up with the American Girl characters was just perpetuating the white man’s post-colonial narrative of America. (Not that, as a ten-year-old, I knew any of those words. But it was the sentiment that counted.)

There was Felicity, the red-headed Revolutionary War hero. After Felicity was Kirsten, the Swedish immigrant whose journey took her across the Atlantic and then to a farm in the Midwest. Very Laura Ingalls Wilder. Then came Addie, the escaped slave who went to Boston or something. After Addie was Samantha, a turn-of-the-century rebel child, a tomboy who – gasp – played with her servant, Nellie. Finally, chronologically speaking, was Molly. Molly lived during WWII and her father was serving overseas, I think. She had to eat radishes, I think that was her major issue.

Even as a kid, I realized something about these girls: they all might be American in that they lived in America, but as pseudo-educational playthings, not one of these characters was native to this land. I was outraged. I drafted a (if I may say so myself) convincing, spirited, and well-written letter to the company.

How could they have all these characters, and keep coming out with more (this was after they released Josefina, a Hispanic girl in the Southwest), and still none of them were actually American? They kept adding to the melting pot of “American Girls” and still, no representation of native culture? Of the people here centuries before even the earliest European explorers? Justice had to be done. They could not call the company American Girl and not represent the wealth and diversity of Native American life.

So Leah sent me an email recently detailing more recent developments of the suite of characters. They have added girls from numerous other decades and origins. But what I was most happy to hear was that they do indeed have a Native American American Girl now. And I can’t help but (wishfully) think that letter I wrote had something to do with it.

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