Mexico Barbie Too Stereotypically 'Colorful' for Some Critics

"It sounds to me like Mattel took some shortcuts," one says.

April 10, 2013, 2:10 PM

April 10, 2013— -- Decked out in a colorful dress and hair ribbons, with a Chihuahua in tow, Mexico Barbie is hitting the shelves of a toy store near you.

The Mexico Barbie Doll is "dressed for a fabulous fiesta in her vibrant pink dress with ruffles, lace and brightly colored ribbon accent," according to the doll's description on Mattel Inc.'s website. For $29.95, she's sold with a pet Chihuahua, a passport and a sticker sheet to record her travels.

Part of Mattel's new "Dolls of the World" collection, Mexico Barbie joins the ranks of international dolls representing nations such as Chile, Holland, the Philippines, Spain, India, China and France.

While all the dolls in the collection come with a passport, some critics say Mexico Barbie is representative of cultural insensitivity, rather than an educational tool that "teaches girls about the culture, traditions and ancestral dress of Mexico," as described by Mattel on its website.

"It sounds to me like Mattel took some shortcuts," Jason Ruiz, a professor of American studies at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind., said. "The bright pink ribbons? A Chihuahua? That kind of stuff is so easy to use."

Ruiz, who teaches courses in Latino studies, race and popular culture, said he finds common representations of Mexican Americans in pop culture as feisty, lively characters, associations that he says have outlived their time.

"[Mexican Americans] are tired of being seen as merely colorful," he said.

Claudya Martinez, a staff writer for the website MamásLatinas, an online community for Latina women and mothers, told that while she was reassured to see that all "Dolls of the World" had passports, it was jarring to see Mexico Barbie with one, given the politically charged discussions of immigration politics in the United States.

"I think a lot of people would like to pretend that there is no more racism and that people are not facing barriers because of their background or their culture," she said. "If you happen to be one of the cultures who is continuously bombarded with stereotypes, it's hard not to notice that the progress you thought had been made has been taken for granted."

While Ruiz said he didn't find the passport offensive, he said he understood why some people might have a problem with it.

"It is a point of contention and great sensitivity for people of Mexican origin, especially Mexican immigrants," he said. "Papers decide everything for immigrants from Mexico."

Martinez said it seemed as though the doll was a way to reinforce, rather than dismantle, stereotypes about cultures throughout the world.

"We're raising multicultural children in the United States, we're all part of the cultural fabric," she said. "To reduce us to something that easy to digest in a bite just oversimplifies who we are."

Ruiz said a more effective cultural representation would be for Mattel to match the efforts put forth by the American Girl doll not only to provide children with dolls that look like them, but create multicultural characters with rich stories to which they can relate.

"The American Girl doll Josephina is appealing to girls like my nieces because she has a narrative," he said. "I don't see Mattel or Barbie inserting my nieces into the narrative of what it means to be an American."

While some have lashed out to Mattel on Twitter that Mexico Barbie's accessories accentuate worn-out stereotypes, the company stands by its product.

Launched in 1980, the Barbie Collector Dolls of the World line is the largest and longest-running series in the history of the Barbie brand, Mattel spokeswoman Stefani Yocky said today.

"Our goal with the Dolls of the World Mexico Barbie, as well as the entire Dolls of the World Collection, is to celebrate cultural differences and tradition, introducing girls to the world through play," she said in a statement today.

The company had also tweeted:"Mexico Barbie is 1 of 100 Barbie Dolls of the World. Current dolls wear a country-inspired outfit & have a passport & animal.

"It's very important to us that Barbie reflects the ethnic and cultural differences of people around the world. We will be sharing your valuable feedback with them to start conversations and evaluate the business."

But some critics are unmoved.

"It's disappointing when its an opportunity for a toy company to reach out and represent different cultures," MamásLatinas' Martinez said.

"Maybe Barbie isn't meant to represent all the cultures of the world. Maybe in the end, that's not what Barbie is supposed to do."

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