MauiTime – January 20, 2011 — Volume 14, Issue 31
by Anu Yagi
“Well she was an American girl / raised on promises / she couldn’t help thinkin’ / that there was a little more to life somewhere else / After all it was a great big world / with lots of places to run to / and if she had to die tryin’ / she had one little promise she was gonna keep”
– “American Girl,” Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
Because as beautiful, talented and deserving as Jessica may be, this whole shebang is ultimately the result of my 1993 petition to American Girl for a Hawaiian doll.
OK. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. (OK, OK. It’s definitely a total exaggeration.) But seriously, when I was Jessica’s age I used to stay up way past my bedtime carefully penning and re-penning exhaustive lists of product suggestions.
[ONLINE ADDENDUM(S): This was back in the day when freed-slave doll “Addy” was the new kid on the block, and before modern-styled, pick-your-look-alike My American Girl dolls (then called American Girls of Today) were introduced.]
My secret motive was to barter my ideas for a free doll. See, by the time my frugal parents came around to the idea of dropping at least a Benjamin on the basic package (i.e. the $100 starting price for an 18-inch cloth-bodied doll), I was on the cusp of middle school and almost done with my doll-playing days. I finally got my very own American Girl—a pick-your-look-alike one who I named “Mariah” because that duet with Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men was all the rage amongst the fifth graders—but she was quickly relegated to “Anu’s Time Capsule,” buried deep in the recesses of Mom’s closet.
Sharing the cardboard box casket with Mariah is “Pua”—her beloved, off-brand predecessor. Pua was a $20 “Mulatto Girl” from Woolworth’s, the kind where you can’t take out the pigtails without revealing spotty hair plugs.
[Dear Keiki Jessica’s Age, What’s a Woolworth’s? It was a store a la Walmart (but without all the horribleness), located where the megaplex is now.]
Mom and I crocheted clothes and bought miniature dishes from Savers, Dad built a canopy bed frame from wood-trim molding, sized for a bed pillow mattress, and in keeping with American Girl’s trademark storybooks, I wrote and illustrated several volumes in The GREAT Adventures of Pua series.
In my silly, so-called books, Pua’s parents were archaeologists. One day, while helping them comb a dig in Kaupo, she found a poi dog puppy with “ears the color of chocolate and softer than velvet” and named him Sammy (not-so-coincidentally, that was also my dog’s name). Back home in Kula, Sammy lead her to a secret lava tube where she found coconut husk dolls lodged in the crevices. Against her better judgement she took one, igniting the fury of fire goddess Pele, and an otherworldly battle ensued, replete with Night Marchers, heroism and whatnot. (Upon reflection, maybe it was my emphasis on aboriginal mythology that kept American Girl from getting hip to my pitch. Too much Babysitters Club and Goosebumps, me thinks. Bleh…)
[And at the time, I’d just discovered an insatiable hunger for Hawaiian lore and had been feeding it with the Red Vines that Makua Kehau doled out in class for correct answers (never mind the fact I emerged from the womb an obnoxious know-it-all with a sweet tooth).]
In all honesty [while I did a reflexive, violently joyful jump kick* when I saw Kehaulani Cerizo’s story about Jessica and “Kanani” in The Maui News‘s Sunday Currents], I’m a little perturbed about where the American Girl company has gone in the years since I stopped sending suggestions. In ’98, founder Pleasant Rowland sold out to Mattel for a cool $700 million. Since then, the brand’s taken on a decidedly Barbie-pink bent and lost a lot of its allure.
[* No, really. That was my actual reaction. Ask Mom… Seeing as I already embarrassed myself by telling you about the whole Mariah Carey/Boyz II Men bit, I might as well add it was none other than the Power Rangers who taught me how to do a jump kick.]
What I loved about American Girl was the poignant historical significance, the way muted, real-life palates translated to the dolls’ wee worlds: “Kit” fished and carried a tin pail; Victorian “Sam” pressed flowers and baked gingerbread; “Molly” sewed pillows stuffed with pine needles at summer camp; “Abby” saved scraps of thread to make her momma a birthday present. Sure, most of these dolls still exist, but they’re lost in the neon of modern material girls.
So while I’m thrilled for beautiful little Jessica—and though Kanani’s modern day story of selling shave ice and paddle boarding is good and well, I guess—I’m mad that the world isn’t ready for a Hawaiian character indicative of real Hawaiian character, as opposed to tourist-friendly clichés.
Of course, the success of one of our own is worth putting aside bitterness and rejoicing with a chorus line of jump kicks. I just have one thing to add, for American Girl girls or girls with Woolworth’s versions: This time of play is finite, so play as long as you can. And when you create, create thoughtfully, because the stories you make up now will forever be a part of the story that makes up you—even when the dolls are long-resigned to cardboard boxes in Mom’s closet.
CLICK HERE to read Kehaulani Cerizo’s Maui News article about Jessica and “Kanani.“
CLICK HERE for an excerpt from the book Aloha Kanani.
CLICK HERE for image source (buzzzfeed.com via tabloidprodigy.com)
CLICK HERE to watch an ABC News report on the controversial homeless American Girl named “Gwen.” Seriously.
In searching for weird watchables to embed for you, dear readers, I happened upon a startling little stop motion animation trend. (And by “little trend” I mean Internet meme. There are thousands of videos.) There are far too many gems to list them all here (sadly, embedding had been “disabled by request” with some of the best ones), but if you’d like to fill your next idle afternoon with bemusement of the cutely creepy bend, I recommend that “American Girl stop motion animation” be your next YouTube search.
To get you started, CLICK HERE for a music video to Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.”
Um… I have no idea either.