Mexico Barbie, part of Mattel’s Dolls of the World collection, is causing a stir on the interwebs, with some not-so-happy consumers saying the passport-carrying, Chihuahua-loving brunette is playing to cultural stereotypes.
Sporting an olive tan and wearing a pink ruffled dress, critics believe Mattel may have gone too far in its line of dolls that introduces girls to the world’s various cultures.
Of main concern is her passport. Some say during a time when immigration is causing hot debate, and with states like Arizona passing “papers, please” legislation requiring suspected illegal immigrants to show their documents, that giving Mexico Barbie a passport fans the flames of a very sensitive fire. I’d be tempted to agree with the argument if all the other Dolls of the World didn’t come with passports of their own, but they do.
Same with the Chihuahua criticism. Sure, not all Mexican families own a Chihuahua, but thanks to Taco Bell and other pop culture references, the little dog has become synonymous with all things Mexican. Again, if all the Dolls of the World didn’t come with their own animal, and if the Chihuahua wasn’t native to Mexico (Chihuahua is a state in Mexico, FYI), it might be reason to feel offended. To me, it just seems silly.
For the record, I’m part Mexican. I was raised by a Hawaiian-Portuguese grandmother and Mexican grandfather. Having grown up in Hawaii, one of the most diverse places in the world, cultural sensitivity is in my blood. Yet, I feel mostly unoffended by Mattel’s choices, even though the company seems to leave no stereotype unturned.
Hawaii Barbie, for instance, wears a bikini top and a grass skirt and comes with a sea turtle. Having lived in Hawaii my whole life, I can tell you, no one is walking around in grass skirts. You’ll possibly encounter them at a tourist-filled Waikiki luau, or the prestigious Merry Monarch Hula Festival, but that’s about it. And the sea turtle, or honu, is considered an ’aumakua, or spirit guide—no one would dare be caught walking around with a sea turtle under the arm. Still, the doll is specific to Hawaii. You’ve got to give it to Mattel, for that.
Many other choices seem equally stereotypical, but harmless. China Barbie cradles a little panda bear, a monkey clings to the arm of India Barbie, and a koala hitches a ride on Australia Barbie’s arm.
Dolls of the World, and Mexico Barbie included, seem to serve the purpose of introducing kids to cultures they’d likely not encounter on their own. Mattel seems to make some typical—maybe even stereotypical—choices, sure. But I also think it’s incredibly difficult to boil down complex cultures into a few pieces of clothing and accessories on a doll. In that sense, Mattel succeeds. They’re giving us the world, whether you like or not.
For more commentary from Loren, check back often. Views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Toy Book as a whole. We hope that you will share your comments and feedback below. Until next time!