“Mommy, why do you like to buy me Asian looking dolls?”

Now to start with, my daughter has quite a multicultural and multi-racial collection, from Lego figures to Barbies to bigger dolls. She loves dolls. And among each size, she has a couple of Asian looking dolls. When she asked for a set of “Spirit Riding Free” horses and dolls for her birthday a couple of months ago, we browsed online together — they are about the size of Chelsea from the Barbie series. We got all the main characters (a brunette, a blonde, and an African American) and their horses. Then, we saw this Asian one on a pony. I said, “Look at this doll! Let’s also get this?” “No.” She plainly and decisively refused, “she’s not the main character.”

I was a bit surprised but let it go at the time. It was her birthday gift, her decision to have what she wanted. On her birthday, she opened the set with great joy and excitement — especially this year, with Covid-19 social distancing, she didn’t get to have a traditional birthday party and only has the present we gave her. She put the barn together and the saddles on the horses. Her bright eyes gleefully examined the three figures and her happy little hands, touching their hair and clothes. “Mommy, look at them! They are GREAT!” Then suddenly she remembered something, “Hmm… why did you ask me if I wanted the Asian one?”

Again, surprised, I answered, “Because… as an Asian yourself, wouldn’t you like to see an Asian doll in your collection?”

“No… not really… WHY?” she asked, then added, “I have Asian dolls already.”

“True…” I said, “Most of your dolls are blondes and brunettes, though, you know.”

“Yeah, I know!” She answered, “But that’s how it’s like at school. Me and A are the only Asians in our class. Our whole school doesn’t have that many Asians. They are all blonds and brunettes! Some kids are black and some are from India.”

I smiled, “Kids whose families are from India are Asians, too, just from a different part of Asia.”

“Oh, I see! Like, Shimmer and Shine and Jasmine and Aladdin.” Her face lit up, “but there’s still not that many.”

“True.” I replied, “but you are all there. Each and every kid counts. Everyone can be the main character. Everyone’s image is important; everyone’s voice counts, even when there’s just one person that’s from a different race.”

“Yay! I have a voice! I do raise my hand in class every time I know the answer.” She smiled at me, “I get it now. Next time you see that Asian doll, please get her for me, I want her for my collection, too.”

“Sure!” I smiled back, “And keep raising your hands and keep talking in your confident, strong voice.”

“I will!”

She then went ahead to re-read the books and found the pages where the Asian character was and showed to me.

Then we remembered her American Girls Wellie Wishers book series. She said, “Mommy, I love these books! In this series, everyone gets a chance to be the main character, Emerson and Kendal and everyone!” I smiled. She’s got it.

I am glad that we had this conversation. I’m glad that I caught this before she further internalizes under-representation, which may weaken her sense of self, chip away her confidence and presence, and muffle her voice.

It also made me think, although I didn’t lead the conversation further, given that she’s only 7. She can take her time and take one step at a time. But my thoughts ran deeper. I will write these thoughts down in a different post 🙂

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