The “Mexico Barbie” Causes Controversy

by Evette Dionne

Mexico BarbieMattel has had a tumultuous April. The latest attack aimed at the toymaker is its release of “Mexico Barbie.” Mexico Barbie aims to teach girls “about the culture, traditions and ancestral dress of Mexico,” according to her online description. Instead she’s drumming up controversy for perpetuating stereotypes of Mexican culture.

The Mexico Barbie, which is one of several of Mattel’s “Dolls of the World,” dons ‘traditional’ Mexican garb. She is also retailed with a small Chihuahua and a passport. All attempts to salvage Mattel’s horrid history with diversity have been severed here. The inclusion of a passport and a small Chihuahua with a Mexican Barbie perpetuates stereotypical assumptions about the culture.

The doll is retailing for $29.95, but some critics are asking for its removal from the shelves.

Jason Ruiz, an American Studies professor at Notre Dame University told Good Morning America that the inclusion of the passport is insensitive to Mexican-Americans and other immigrant communities, especially as the political-immigration debate heats up.

“It is a point of contention and great sensitivity for people of Mexican origin, especially Mexican immigrants,” Ruiz explained. “Papers decide everything for immigrants from Mexico.”

To be clear, all of the dolls are sold with passports and animals. The Indian doll comes with a small monkey. However, including a passport isolates the Mexican, Indian and other “cultural” Barbies instead of promoting an inclusive America. A native-country flag would’ve been a reasonable alternative, but Mattel seems to be selling controversy this month.

The legendary brand released a statement saying:

“Each doll wears an ensemble inspired by the traditional costume and fashion of the country. … We consulted with the Mexican Embassy on the Dolls of the World Mexico Barbie, especially with respect to the selection of the Chihuahua. 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.”

Some people of color disagree. Claudya Martinez, a writer for MamásLatinas, is one of them.

“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 told ABC News. “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.”

Martinez also sums up the importance of avoiding stereotypes when addressing cultural differences in a melting pot like America.

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

  • Mademoiselle

    I’m not sure why a passport and a dog native to Mexico are stereotypical. I could see if they gave the doll a green card, which would make it seem like a political statement, but passports signify globalization and travel. Can someone explain this to me?

  • theblackparacosmistmind

    The problem is the “othering”. This country claims to be a nation of immigrants, yet everyone who isn’t white is treated like an immigrant, or basically an “other”. Chicanos, or Mexican-American individuals are no more “immigrants” than Black Americans are. People forget that parts of Texas, Arizona, and California, and other states were formerly parts of Mexico. Thus, the whole Mexicans are a separate entitly from Americans is entirely fucked up. That’s like making a Native American Barbie doll with a passport, like, wtf, for example. These are indigenous peoples. And the same goes for Mexican or Chicano families who have lived for generations in Texas or wherever else.

    The whole passport thing is problematic. As if to be someone of a different nationality means that you’re not from here. They won’t make an Irish barbie doll with a passport because people don’t consider whiteness to be foreign, only normative. hope that helps!

  • No_chaser

    I agree.
    Lol, but would the professor prefer the doll carry around a rottweiler?

  • Anonin

    Well I’m not Mexican so they can decide for themselves if its racist or not but honestly I’m not expecting Mattel Barbie to be culturally sensitive or aware.

  • Mademoiselle

    That does help. It makes a lot of sense when you put it that way. I fell for the “Mexican immigrant” circular rhetoric and didn’t even realize it until I read what you wrote. Thanks for elaborating!

  • LemonNLime

    “People forget that parts of Texas, Arizona, and California, and other states were formerly parts of Mexico. Thus, the whole Mexicans are a separate entity from Americans is entirely fucked up

    I hate this argument. Those area belonged to the Mexicans, and before that the Spanish, and before that the First Nations peoples. Everything belonged to someone else before including other parts of the US but we only seem the hear this argument when Mexico is involved. Mexico lost that war, just like the South lost that war, and the Brits lost that war so move the frick on.

    Mexico is a sovereign State, with it’s own citizenship (which they aren’t handing out to illegals like we are). Considering it is “Mexico Barbie” not “Mexican-American Barbie”, it makes sense for it to have it’s own passport. Mexico is NOT a part of the US.

  • http://gravatar.com/pinklipstick227 pinklipstick227

    Lemonnlime– I am not a fan of that argument as well. Mexicans lost the war. If the US was just as haphazard as Mexico, they wouldn’t be fighting for American citizenship.

  • http://theunsungstoryteller.tumblr.com TheMuseintheMirror

    The only thing I’m really confused about is the passport. It does make it seem that Mattel is doing an “othering” thing on other ethnicities and cultures. I could see if they did this 50 years ago, with the passports and all, but now the U.S. is such a melting pot of all different ethnicities that you simply cannot assume just because a person is non-white that they were born in another country (hence, the assumption that they have a passport)

    In addition, how do these dolls teach kids about ancestral culture and tradition if all they have is a passport and a dog? What about teaching them about being mestizo or about the significance of Virgen de Guadelupe and/or La Malinche or about famous political, social, intellectual people that made a difference in that country and around the world? What about teaching them about current events? Man…Mattel could’ve done a lot with these dolls….if only they get these stereotypes about the “others” out of their head and actually talk to Chicano(a)s, Texano(a)s, Cholo(a)s, and etc.

  • http://parentingbytheseatofmypants.wordpress.com greendoondoon

    All of the “Dolls of The World” have passports. The Swedish one, the British one, the Russian one. The passport is a storm in a teacup.

  • http://theunsungstoryteller.tumblr.com TheMuseintheMirror

    I don’t know if Lemonnlime or pinklipstick227 is aware of this, but Mexican people are mixed with Native American and Spanish blood (mestizo). The Spanish conquered that land illegally and forced their rights upon the Native Americans there. Mexicans came from mixed relationships. Therefore, the argument that their land was owned by different people and at different times is invalid. The land was the Native Americans and now their “grandchildren’s” land as well and will always be.

    Also, please do not compare the Spanish-Mexican war with the Civil War or the American Revolutionary War. All three wars have entirely different contexts and nationalities (people) that fought in them.

    Not only is theblackparacostmind correct, but America stays busy in other countries business. So in that regard, Mexico is a part of the U.S.

  • http://parentingbytheseatofmypants.wordpress.com greendoondoon

    It’s not Mexican-American Barbie; it’s Mexico Barbie. They are called Dolls of the World, not Ethnic American Barbies. I understand your point, but it’s not what the doll is about or trying to perpetuate. Here’s France:
    http://www.barbiecollector.com/shop/doll/france-barbie-doll-x8420
    They’ve included the stereotype of a beret and a basket of baguettes. I work with French people; neither has worn a beret and I’ve never seen them eat a baguette.

  • LemonNLime

    Yes, I am fully aware of the ethnic make-up of modern day Mexicans. Are you aware that Mexicans also have African blood? And your point being?

    You can reformat history as much as your want but all three of those wars were about economic/political policies and territory. How many Brits come over here demanding citizenship because the US used to belong to the UK? There are many English family split between the UK and USA just like Mexicans. It would be no different and it would still be a stupid argument.

    If Mexico is part of the USA, PLEASE fly to Mexico and try to get citizenship. Hell, try to go there and start a business or partake in the social system. I bet you will find out REAL fast that Mexicans don’t consider you to be part of Mexico.

  • http://theunsungstoryteller.tumblr.com TheMuseintheMirror

    Oh….Okay! I misread. That makes a little bit more sense!

  • AnnT

    I don’t understand how having a passport =I only want to take up (illegal) residence in the US. That’s an overly conceited sentiment among too many American citizens.

  • talaktochoba

    um…Mexicans were here before Texas, before Arizona, before California;

    it’s INEXCUSABLE to have included a lapdog and passport;

    what she should’ve had was a horse and a ballot–who do you think voted California into the Union?

    we did!

  • Naps93!

    How about we address the real problem here, especially on this site (not throwing shade! Clutch I love you). Mattel’s dolls of the world collection conveniently features dolls from every continent except Antarctica…oh yeah, and Africa! WTH?! Are we not considered members of this world? There is literally not one black Barbie in this collection. Mattel is such trash.

  • Mademoiselle

    lol @Antarctica. Good point about Africa, considering it contains ~30% of the world’s countries.

  • LemonNLime

    Do you really want that? I have a feeling that doll would like a Barbie sambo doll, monkey included…

  • http://parentingbytheseatofmypants.wordpress.com greendoondoon

    That’s strange because the old Dolls of The World featured Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya. They were also the most beautiful black Barbies too. Maybe (here’s hoping) they haven’t finished the collection. The Brazilian Barbie is black.

  • kayla

    you are right, but all im saying is that if this was a black barbie with a chicken wing in her hand, all hell would break loose.

  • http://parentingbytheseatofmypants.wordpress.com greendoondoon

    I collect Barbies and have loved them since I was a child.
    Here’s Ghana: http://www.barbiecollector.com/shop/doll/ghanaian-barbie-doll-15303
    Nigeria: http://www.barbiecollector.com/shop/doll/nigerian-barbie-doll-07376
    Kenya: http://www.barbiecollector.com/shop/doll/kenyan-barbie-doll-11181

    A bit too much animal print for Nigeria (actually, she reminds me of the first woman Eddie Murphy was supposed to marry in ‘Coming To America’) and there are no giraffes in Ghana, but again, I think that’s cultural ignorance about parts of Africa, not racism.

  • http://evettedionne.com Evette Dionne

    Hi Mademoiselle. Thanks for reading. I call this the perpetuation of discrimination in marginalized spaces. If an African-American Barbie was created and she carried a watermelon and a monkey, our community would be up in arms. Our Mexican brethren deserve the same outrage and regard. I hope that explains the perspective and importance of this piece.

  • Mademoiselle

    I hope they aren’t done yet too. The website shows an airplane flying back and forth *across* Africa and never making a stop. It’s kind of glaring for it to be the only continent without any pink and that you can’t click on.

    **I think the Brazilian Barbie is that ambiguous shade of “hispanic” with “hispanic hair,” not necessarily black from what I see.

  • Kiki

    Why is the passport stereotypical, the dolls are not suppose to be representing Mexican-Americans they are suppose to be representing Mexicans. People from another country. When we travel between countries we use passports, what is the problem?

  • Mademoiselle

    Thanks for those links. Those dolls are beautiful! I wish they were still available.

  • http://gravatar.com/pinklipstick227 pinklipstick227

    I can’t believe that some minorities are so eager to assimilate into American culture that they find references to their own culture offensive. Chihuahuas are from Mexico. Mexicans should be proud of that. Moreover, the doll is supposed to represent Mexicans not Mexican-Americans.

    If Mattel decided to make add a Nigerian barbie to this collection chose to dress her in a gele, fine lace, and a wrapper, I wouldn’t be offended at all. In fact, if she was holding a Nigerian talking drum in her hand I would be very pleased. I’m not ashamed of my culture and what we represent.

  • http://gravatar.com/pinklipstick227 pinklipstick227

    The brazilian dolls do appear to be women of color but I’m not sure if they are black.

    http://www.barbiecollector.com/shop/doll/brazil-barbie-doll-w3445

    http://www.barbiecollector.com/shop/doll/brazilian-barbie-doll-09094

  • stay tuned

    LOL!!!! What’s the problem you ask?

    Well. Illigal immigrants from Mexico don’t know what a passport is now do they?

  • Mademoiselle

    I understand Evette Dionne. May I also ask what would’ve been a more appropriate symbol for Mexico?

  • KGA25

    They wouldn’t/don’t return the favor. In the media, and certain issues they separate themselves from us.

  • noir45

    Evette, Chihuahuas are indigenous to Mexico, so to me comparing a dog indigenous to Mexico to a stereotype like watermelon and a monkey is not the same thing at all.

  • noir45

    Kayla, I think the stereotype of blacks loving chicken is different than a dog who represents Mexico. Chicken and watermelon are symbols attributed to blacks based on ignorance. Chihuahuas mostly hail from Mexico. That is not the same as a stereotype.

  • kayla

    @ Noir45, the passport though……..

  • noir45

    @kayla, I don’t see what’s wrong with having a passport. We have to have a passport when we travel into Mexico or Canada, so what’s the difference. Also, someone else said that all the International Barbies have passports.

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    Agreed. I am usually the first to side eye things but I don’t see how this is culturally insensitive or cause for controversy. I think people are making a mountain out of an ant hill here.

  • http://www.thinkaboutit-knowaboutit.com/ Danté

    I challenge Ms.Martinez to create a Mexican doll more suited to her liking.

  • http://www.dawnthescreenwriter.com ScriptTease

    I guess they fluctuate between ethnic groups to piss off.

  • http://www.dawnthescreenwriter.com ScriptTease

    … Not sure what your race is, and I’m not sure about the passport either, but the chihuahua sounds suspect. Anywho, how would it feel to include some Hair Weave and a back in the day Aunt Jamima hair scarf along with the Black American Barbie?

  • hugs n kisses

    This doll is part of a line of international barbies and they all have passports, would they prefer the Mexican one be the only one without?

  • hugs n kisses

    Actually, this line includes dolls from places people are considered “white” The Australian and Ireland ones for example come with passports just like the others

  • http://parentingbytheseatofmypants.wordpress.com greendoondoon

    @ScriptTease– Sooo… you didn’t know the dog is native to Mexico. Nor did you see the links to the Dolls of The World collection and see that the Irish Barbie carries an Irish Setter and the Australian Barbie has a koala. Furthermore, I assume you are unaware that African American Barbie exists– she is called Barbie and has brown skin.

  • Kitty Jinx

    Actually… Black Barbie’s name is Christie.

    :/

  • Tina

    Thanks for sharing links to the African dolls of the world. My mom’s doll collection includes some of those dolls & I know about the dolls of the world collection from years of being dragged around (happily) to doll shows and events. This is much ado about nothing. Mattel has lots of varieties of beautiful black Barbies.

  • Deb

    Got to pick your battles alot more wisely in this society Mr. Ruiz. Just the way it is.

  • http://gravatar.com/smith27k smith

    I think there’s a difference between Mexico and those from other continents. In my previous post, there are Chicano families, or Mexican-American families. Who aren’t just Americans, but Mexicans as well. So I’m not buying this global Barbie thing, when it comes to these identities it’s more than just a border line. As a Texan native, I have Chicano neighbors who have families who are like one inch just across the border. And they have businesses in bordering Texan cities and go back and forth for business and to see family members. It may not be “racist” per se, but it’s definitely ignorant to think of Mexico as an outsider country, when there are a plethora of identities (indigenous, Chicano, and whatever else) that mix with what we consider America. Texas and Arizona are two examples of how much cultural influence there is on food, like, Tex-Mex. But Texas is considered “American” soil.

    Yea so Mattel wasn’t thinking about all of this when doing the whole diversity and international barbie thing. And you have to remember, these are U.S. constructions by an American company of what Mexican culture is.

  • blackparacosmistmind

    What you all are forgetting (LemonNLime and pinklipstick227) is about identity!!

    Okay let’s go with that. U.S. got the land, okay! Fine! That doesn’t change the fact that there are bordering families that identify as Chicano or have idigenous blood, who identify as Mexican and also American. What does that have to do with these conflating identities? Identity is tied to ethnicity and nationality. Like is it really that hard to get? Borders may divide countries but it doesn’t divide the fact that people still have afinity with the land and culture. Prime example: AFRICA!!! When the colonial powers divided Africa, it f*cked up a lot shit. Identity is tied to culture and land. Don’t pretend that it’s not. And for those of Mexican, Mexican-Idigenous and American backgrounds; they don’t see these identities as separate or Mexicanness as “foreign”, especially when generations of families have lived on the border of Texas for years. We’re talking about the issue of borders and passports and the concept of “foreignness”. Mexico is not that “foreign” to a lot of people. Look at the culture in Texas! I’m from Houston, it aint nothing to run down the street and get some Tex-Mex or go to an authentic Mexcian restaurant to get some home-made mole. Or to run into those little stands where they got mamacita whippin something up.

    So how foreign is Mexico in relation to the U.S.?

    Let’s put on our thinking caps people. Please.

  • Liz

    Noir handled this… but these comparisons are frigging terrible! (I’m looking at Evette’s comment above too). If they made this doll and gave her a kilo of cocaine, I would understand all these watermelon/chicken/monkey comparisons. The damn dogs come from Mexico!

    Mattel should have kept it safe and used the national (sanctioned by the country) symbols of each of these places, but do any of us really know what a Xoloitzcuintli is, or looks like? (That’s Mexico’s national dog). Stop with the “if it were a black barbie” comparisons.

  • Liz

    The chihuahua… is native to Mexico. Unless this doll is walking around with an AK-47 and a baggie filled with white powder (stereotypes) , miss me with these comparisons. Not the same at ALL.

  • http://elegantblackwoman.blogspot.com Elegance

    I don’t actually have a problem with it. The dolls have passports because they are supposed to be foreign dolls. I encourages travel. All the dolls have animals. Some people just want to be offended sometimes. It’s called DOLLS of the WORLD not dolls of the U.S. It’s not like dolls like this have never been done before. What should the doll have been wearing instead of cultural dress? What animal should she be paired with because I bet few of us could name an animal associated only with Mexico.

    When is something honoring and admiring the distinctness of a culture vs. perpetuating stereotypes? Lot of people have chiuauhas (spelling?).

    It’s so funny that just the other day a woman was protesting that Mattel make birthday party sets for her Black daughter and prove that they promote diversity. Then they make a bunch of dolls showing diversity and as expected…people of color are complaining about it. Should they have not bothered to include diversity? Do you want them to show you as being the same (i.e., White dolls merely painted brown) or do you want them to show your differences?

  • http://elegantblackwoman.blogspot.com Elegance

    “As if to be someone of a different nationality means that you’re not from here. They won’t make an Irish barbie doll with a passport because people don’t consider whiteness to be foreign, only normative. ”

    Totally disagree. Someone below said that there are Irish and Australian dolls in the line and they have passports. these are Dolls of the World, not dolls of America. It’s about different countries…other countries exist besides the U.S, and Barbies are also sold in those countries. Yes, they can have an American Indian doll with a passport because non-Americans would have to travel to see them using…passports! If you think about their doll line as being an international line then there is less reason to be offended. There is an entire country full of Mexicans who don’t live in the U.S. and to see their real culture you would have to go to Mexico with a passport!

  • http://elegantblackwoman.blogspot.com Elegance

    “The only thing I’m really confused about is the passport. It does make it seem that Mattel is doing an “othering” thing on other ethnicities and cultures. ”

    i think these dolls will be totally accepted in Canada because people here have no issue with keeping their culture, putting on traditional dress for holidays, celebrations, and parades, and acknowledging that they are Canadian and from another country. My parents are Guyanese and if they came out with a Guyanese Barbie my mom and her friends would be all over that because there are no Guyanese barbies (to my knowledge). Are there Mexican Barbies? Would they prefer that there were never any Mexican barbies in the future?

    I mean people can only speak for themselves but there may be a lot of girls and even women who wanted and are glad for these dolls. I thought this was what embracing diversity was all about.

  • noir45

    Yes, but the “diversity” Mattel is showing does not include the continent of AFRICA. I guess as long as the dolls are European, Asian, Latin, etc. that’s diverse enough for them.

    They used to have African dolls, but apparently, they don’t sell as much as the others because their website says those dolls are “No longer available.”

  • http://parentingbytheseatofmypants.wordpress.com greendoondoon

    They are serious collector’s items. If you check out eBay for one of those or the Shani collection, they cost a fortune. There is a Moroccan Barbie; there sadly aren’t any from the sub-Saharan part of Africa. I’d like to contact Mattel and ask them why, especially as one of the top development executives is a black woman.

    @Kitty Jinx I know that Christie is Barbie’s black friend. However, there are black versions of Barbie dolls that are not African-American stereotypes, which was my point.

  • noir45

    greendoondoon, if I could afford one of those dolls, I would purchase in a NY minute! I will contact Mattel and ask them why they aren’t available. They’ll probably say that there wasn’t enough demand for them.

  • Misty_Moonsilver

    How can this be a stereotype if she has a passport? Serious question. I HATE Mattel but I don’t think they were trying to offend.

  • Ms Write

    But the line is “international” not Mexican American.

  • Missy

    I think Ms. Mexico Barbie is lovely, and love the passport idea and the dog. I think you’re being way too sensitive. There are lots of parts of Mexico that rival the USA in terms of being a cultural center. Heck there are even white Romneys who live in MX today as well as all kinds of people who live there. Jesse Ventura lives there full time as I recall. The weather is divine and if the drug gangs ever go away it will really come up in the world to rival the USA. JMHO.

  • lolala

    Off topic, but when I lived in France last year, it was very normal for people to walk around with baguettes (usually going to work or home from the market). Berets were also very popular there too.

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