An honest take on life and parenthood

Mexico Barbie: Much Ado About Nothing

on April 18, 2013

ImageBarbie and I go way back, and have been friends since childhood. After more than two decades away, she reappeared in my home last year. Even if I had tried to bar her entry, I didn’t stand a chance, between the Pooh’s girly ways and the Barbie Disney Princess line of dolls.

I work to expose the Pooh to different cultures and people as much as I possibly can, since I want her to open her mind to as many people and experiences as possible. And as I am very proud of my Mexican heritage, I am always looking for positive images of Latinos and Latin culture in toys and books that I purchase for her, so that she shares the same sense of pride.

Imagine my delight when I recently discovered a line of Barbies from Mattel called Dolls of the World. Both the globe trotter and the little girl in me were excited to find them.  I scrolled through the selection of Barbies online, admiring the careful details of their national costumes, and promptly ordered the Mexico Barbie for the Pooh as a future surprise.

Yesterday, Latina magazine’s e-newsletter arrived in my inbox, with a headline blaring:  Stereotypical Mexican Barbie Comes With a Chihuahua and a Passport.

You could have knocked me over with a nopal.

As you can see from the picture here, Mexico Barbie wears a ruffled pink dress. She holds a Chihuahua under her arm, and comes with a passport. The dress itself is one of the national costumes of Mexico, showing the influences of Spanish and indigenous culture in both the style and colorful ribbons adorning the skirt. The Mexican pink (rosa mexicano) of her dress is practically the Pantone color of Mexico.

This type of dress is worn by the internationally known Ballet Folklorico de Mexico, along with many other typical regional costumes. It is also worn during national celebrations and festivals by performers of all ages. As a little girl (and even as an adult, I will confess), I dreamed of learning the traditional dances to have the privilege of wearing this romantic, elegant dress with its miles of skirt to flourish.

Mexican Ballet Folklorico dancers

Mexican Ballet Folklorico dancers

One (male) critic argued that it presents a dated image. I disagree, since it is as timeless and representative of the culture as the flamenco dress is of the Spain Barbie.

Certainly, no modern Mexican woman would go to work dressed in this type of dress, any more than an Indian woman would do the same in full Bollywood bling or a Dutch woman would wear a pointed hat and wooden clogs to live her daily life. Arguing for a more contemporary fashion look for these dolls would defeat the entire premise of this line, especially as fashion becomes more globalized and less distinct from country to country. (I note that the other critic with this point was also male.)

Now, let’s talk about the Chihuahua.

When I saw it under the arm of Mexico Barbie, I laughed out loud. Every glamour girl needs a little dog, and the Chihuahua seems appropriate, given both its size and its origins in the country. Mexicans are much more affectionate about the humble, hard-working burro, but let’s be honest. A sweet burro is too homely for Barbie, so I respect the choice of the pet Chihuahua.

Finally, let’s talk about the passport.

Why do people have their trenzas in a twist about the passport?

Many Mexicans arrive in the U.S. legally, and unfortunately, many also arrive without legal documents (as do immigrants from other countries featured in the collection.)  I too, arrived here illegally, so I understand the pain and shame of living in this country without legal documentation. However, I fail to understand the supposed sensitivity on the presence of the passport.

It makes no sense to omit Mexico Barbie’s passport out of deference to these sensitivities. It would have been far more offensive to give passports to all of the Barbies except for Mexico Barbie. Had that happened, I would have gone freaking medieval on Mattel.

Provide passports to all of the Barbies, or none of them, but there is no reason to single out Mexico Barbie on this non-issue. It is standard to travel internationally with a passport. End of story.

In closing, I find it strange that some people in the Latino community choose to be offended about this Barbie, and not some other items for children’s consumption.

For example, why haven’t they challenged Fisher Price on its Little People Zoo toy, where the zoologist is blond, blue-eyed and fair skinned, while the maintenance guy has brown skin, black hair, and a bushy moustache?

Brady and Jose, from Fisher Price's Little People Zoo

Brady and Jose, from Fisher Price’s Little People Zoo

Why haven’t they contacted Dutton Children’s Books about their best-selling children’s series of Skippyjon Jones? It perpetuates stereotypes of Mexicans as rowdy, living in crowds, and speaking mangled Spanglish, all with the intention of making kids laugh in some warped Latin version of blackface.

Yes, I heard that silence too.

As for me, I will finally give Mexico Barbie to the Pooh tomorrow. Mexico Barbie may be a stereotype, but at least she is a lovely one.

8 responses to “Mexico Barbie: Much Ado About Nothing

  1. John says:

    Great wee post, Barbie gets targeted a lot and I have to confess I did my own bit of criticism in a post I did just recently but this seems like a legitimate product that can be used, like you said, to familiarise little girls with different cultures. I’d love to see what the Scottish one looks like, though I’m pretty sure we’ll end up with a ‘British’ one that looks mostly English. Do you have a link to the site you found them on?


    • Hi John, thank you. The collection goes back several years, as you will see from the site here:
      I don’t remember seeing a Scottish one, but that is a great idea. As one beloved friend once said, “I love the Scots. They are like Latins, except they live near the North Pole.” If Scotland ever makes good on its threat to split off, maybe Mattel will come out with a Scottish Barbie. I’ll check out your recent Barbie post.


      • John says:

        Yep looks like we got one already, just checked 😛 The referendum for Scottish independence is next year, currently we all seem to be a bit mixed about it. I think I know what your friend meant, we can be a pretty passionate bunch at times, being so far north I kind of remember what sunshine looks like, we had snow last week and there is still snow in the hills, a fairly common skin colour in Scotland is blue 😛


  2. This is a fantastic post! Thanks for sharing this fresh perspective. And I totally love that you called the pepto bismol pink folklorico dress Mexico’s Pantone color! LOL!!!


  3. This is a fantastic post! Thanks for the great writing and fresh perspective. And I love that you called the pepto bismol pink baile folklorico dress Mexico’s Pantone color!! LOL!!


  4. lavolpe59 says:

    great post, Chica, checked out some of the other Barbies and they all follow typical sterotypes for the region they respresent, so at least Mattel is consistent! you are spot on that the dolls are genuinely lovely 🙂

    Now I am wondering where is the mouthy, angry beaver doll with her beagle, hip high boots, and riding crop!!


  5. lavolpe59 says:

    ok, so i LOVe that the comment is in moderation awaiting approval….. LOL


  6. aditi says:

    it was fun seeing barbie in mexican style


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