No sooner had I taken down our Halloween decorations and removed the rotting pumpkins that I forgot to carve (in my haste to prepare for Hurricane Sandy’s crash into NYC), when I got a call from my super-organized sister, Margie, asking me what she should get my 5-year-old daughter for Christmas. This threw me into panic mode as she reminded me that we have to be strategic about where to shop for bargains. But wait! I’m still recovering from Thanksgiving.
As I hung up with my sister, I vowed to get her a list of gift ideas. And as trivial as my assignment seemed compared to everything else I had to do at home and at work, I realized that finding toys that are developmentally appropriate for my preschool daughter and that are “culturally’’ appropriate is a daunting task. While I prefer not to think about, I know I have to because of the impact that culturally-appropriate images have on my daughter.
After an exhaustive online search I realized there is no one source that has compiled mami-approved suggestions for Latinas and other moms who are raising socially conscious, multi-cultural kids. When I set out to look for toys that defy stereotypes for girls and reflect our skin tones and cultural values, I found a lot of blond Barbies—who after all these years still have the unrealistic breast-to-waist ratio that I thought feminists had done away with long ago.
I found a Latina magazine article from 2009 that stated that although toy makers began to diversify their products years ago, most parents are still hard-pressed to find dolls that reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of today’s families. That statement is as true in 2012 as it was then. Disney’s recent release of its newest princess, Sofia the First, spawned an early controversy in the media as to whether Sofia (with an “f”) was Latina enough to satisfy both the Disney execs and the self-appointed “Brown Police” who protest any Latino character on television that is not produced by one of them. The success of Nickelodeon’s Dora the Explorer and the introduction by American Girl of a variety of ethnic dolls like Addy, Josefina and Kaya—may mean more dolls with brown faces on the store shelves, but toy companies still have a long way to go before their products truly reflect the rich diversity of our communities. And this makes simple gift buying a monumental undertaking.
Read Related: Disney’s Princess Sofia: Whitewash or Milestone?
Lucky for you, I’ve done some research for you. Here’s my “mami-approved” list of mom-vetted, culturally accurate, developmentally appropriate toys from the perspective of a children’s television producer who is also a mom to a Black and Latina daughter. Here are the top five 2012 mami-approved dolls on my list:
American Girl—Josefina [The Mexican one.]($100)
For a measly $100, your daughter can appreciate a bit of Mexican history and even help Josefina “celebrate her town’s most blessed night of the year, la Noche Buena (Christmas Eve)” with a special holiday outfit that features an empire waist dress, ruffled white pantaletas and a fine lace mantilla—a veil held in place by a fancy comb. With this doll, your daughter can be part of the American Girl craze and you or your relatives can look forward to buying lots of clothes, furniture and accessories in the future. Heck, you might even want to celebrate her next birthday at the American Girl Café in NYC. (I hope they serve wine for moms.)
Hasbro Baby Alive Baby All Gone Hispanic ($24.99)
Here’s your chance to teach your daughter Spanish while she learns what it really means to care for a baby. My favorite phrase is when she says Que rico los platanos! After all the feedings and changing of diapers you can explain to your daughter why you chose to go to college, become a lawyer and have fun travelling the world before you welcomed her into your life.
‘Tiny Baby’ 13” Lifelike Mexican Baby ($49.99)
I found this “beautiful and realistic Hispanic character doll” on SleepySoft. I’m not sure how lifelike this doll really is, but it made me feel good that the company claims to donate ten percent of the profits from doll sales on the site to charities that help children.
Disney’s Doc McStuffins Magic Talkin’ Checkup Set ($27.99)
Now here is a brown doll that makes me feel good about giving Disney Jr. my money. Doc McStuffins is a sweet little 6-year-old who plays doctor to her dolls, which come alive when they are alone with her. But wait, even her mother is a doctor. Best of all, your daughter will learn that love cures most boo-boos.
Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess ($14.50)
And just in time for the holiday, Disney debuts its Sofia the First 13” plush doll. Despite the controversy of whether she is too blond and her eyes are too blue to be “Latina”, Disney has done a brilliant marketing job for its latest princess. My daughter reminded me daily that something wonderful was happening on Nov. 18—the world premiere of Sofia the First on the Disney Channel. On that date we sat with a bowl of popcorn and watched the show with the same intensity with which I watched the Presidential debates. At the end, I realized that my daughter really didn’t care about what Latin country Sofia came from. She was more concerned that the mean Royal Sorcerer tried to steal the powerful amulet given to Sofia by her new stepfather, and that the two kids from the King’s previous relationship eventually were kind to her, making for a perfect, happily blended family. For me, I was just happy to know that for once the stepmother was not an evil woman and that a fine Latina actress, Sara Ramirez, got another job—a rare thing in Hollywood these days.
Stay tuned for the next installment of “mami-approved” toys, books and apps—as soon as I finish cleaning up from Thanksgiving!