It was pretty ironic how a little Chinese girl who was adopted and brought to America grew up playing with American Girl Dolls. I came to the United States in the 1990s, which was more than 20 years ago and it was about 10 years since I’ve actually played with my American Girl Dolls. What’s ironic about this is the fact that a girl who had a collection of the dolls was not an American Girl herself. She wasn’t born an American. She was fortunately brought to America to live an American Girl life.
I got my very first American Girl Doll from my Aunt’s house in New Hampshire around Christmas time in 2001. Therefore, I was around four years old. My first doll was Samantha Parkington.
She was the very first doll in the historical collection that was launched in 1986. Each doll came with a book of their life that represented a time period in American History from 1764-1974. Samantha’s story was told from the perspective of 1904. Since I was only 4 years old when I got my first American Girl Doll, I didn’t know what to do with her. I just did what any normal little girl would do; play with her hair and talk to her. As a matter of fact, Samantha sat in my room as part of my American Girl Collection for the most part.
As I got older, my family gave me more dolls to add to my collection. Through the years of 2001-2006, I had about 3 dolls. I had a doll that was from the “Truly Me” Collection of American Girls.The company created a collection where children could create their own doll that looks like them. There were so many different dolls to choose from. Each had different features. There were light-skinned, dark-skinned, medium skin tone.
Some had earrings if the child had their ears pierced; everything. Due to the fact that the historical dolls didn’t necessarily look like the children, the company might’ve wanted to create look-alike dolls to connect with all children with different race, and physical features. At that age I wanted to get a doll that looked like me; brown eyes, medium skin tone, and dark brown hair. I just saw myself as a brown eyes, dark brown hair American girl with medium skin tone.I did know that I was adopted, but I never thought about me different from anyone else.
Having not been born in the United States, the historical American Girl Doll allowed me to learn about different time periods of a country that I was brought into to give me opportunities that I wouldn’t have in my birth country. Something that I didn’t pay attention to while I was growing up with them that I had noticed now was the lack of diversity the company chose for the dolls. Due to the fact that these dolls were invented in the 80s in America, the majority of U.S. Citizens were caucasian. During the 1980s, the percentage of caucasian in America was around 80% of the total population. Other races such as Hispanics and black were around 6% and 12% of the total population. Unfortunately, being born as a chinese girl, the population for asian people in America at the time when the dolls were first being made really shocked me.
The percentage for Asians was around 2% of the total population. In the 90’s, the percentage went up to 3%. The company didn’t launch an asian doll until 2007. The first Asian-American doll was Ivy Ling. Ivy Ling was the 4th doll to be invented into the Best Friend collection of the historical dolls. She was historical doll, Julie Albright’s best friend.
However, since she was the first Asian-American doll to be launched, she had her own collection to tell her story about having an Asian-American life. It was very likely that the company waited to launched an Asian-American doll in the collections because by the 2000s, the asian population was starting to grow in America. Ivy’s story was around the 1970s, which was a time period where the asian population was very low. So, that was a reason why it was huge when they launched an Asian-American doll.
By the time Ivy Ling was launched in 2007, I was around 11 years old. I decided that I wanted Ivy’s best friend, Julie Albright. You might ask, “Why didn’t you choose Ivy Ling since you and her have the same background and you could possibly connect to her more?” Well, at that age, I didn’t really think about race. I didn’t care about what race or color the dolls I played with were. To me, they were just dolls to have a collection with and play with like typical girl. All I saw myself, while growing up, was an American Girl. I didn’t think deep into the race of the dolls because I didn’t think much about my race and where I came. I didn’t think my race mattered because my parents didn’t make a big deal about it. They treated me like an American Girl. They wanted me to be comfortable in my own skin and know that I can be friends with any race, and play with any toy that I wanted like a regular kid.
At the time, I didn’t think about nor cared if anyone was like me. I grew up in a diverse community.I was living in an environment where caucasian kids were friends with blacks who were friends with spanish. While I was at the age when I was playing with American Girl Dolls, it didn’t bother me that none of my friends looked like me or any of my family members. In their eyes and my eyes I was just an American Girl.
Years have past and I am a college student looking back at this nostalgia. I’ve had time to open my eyes more and realize that I wished I had the Ivy Ling doll. I think it would’ve been great for me to have a doll that was like me internally, but I was too young to think deep into them when I just saw them as pretty dolls to play with and collect. When I was growing up I didn’t pay attention to the fact that no one looked like me or came from where I came from. I saw myself as an American Girl. Even though I don’t necessary play with my dolls now, I would still have the Ivy Ling Doll and know that she was a Chinese-American, just like me. When I grow older and older, I would have her story to tell to the future people in my life. I would have a connection and a realization that I’m not just an American Girl. I’ve realized that I’m not just a brown eyes, dark brown hair American Girl with medium skin tone. I am a Chinese-American Girl.