The gift started it all.
A college-bound neighbor handed down her collection of American Girl books to two sisters.
The older one immediately fell in love with the stories of Josefina and Kaya, tearing through the books in two days. They “inspired” her, she says. “I looked up to those girls.”
Her younger sister started reading the books and “I’m glad that she loves them as much as I did,” she says.
The books got her thinking: how about a Muslim American American Girl doll?
The books accompany American Girl dolls. Two decades ago I read the books paired with Josefina, the first Latina doll. Meticulous research went into both.
The 12-year-old and her 9-year-old sister started a petition, addressing it to Katy Dickson, American Girl president, and Margo Georgiadis, CEO of Mattel, Inc. (American Girl is a subsidiary of Mattel.)
They explained their love of the books, how they gained insight into the characters and eras when the stories took place. In these days when Muslims are much maligned and misunderstood, wouldn’t this be a good time to share information on what being a Muslim American is?
And then, because this is 2017, two weeks ago they put it onto the petition website change.org, signing it: from Salwa and Zahra.
Realistically, the 12-year-old figured they’d get a handful of signatures from relatives.
But that’s not what happened. Every day more people sign it. (There were 10,480 signatures Monday morning.) One might think it’s simply Muslims, but from comments posted I see that isn’t the case. Instead it’s people who value diversity. Folks wanting their children to understand the Muslim-American experience. Individuals eager for Muslim-American girls to feel they, like all Americans, are part of this great country of ours.
As one petition signer summarized: Play leads to learning.
I thought about her comment when visiting the American Girl store in Water Tower Place last week and witnessing the happy young customers. What positive lessons these girls are learning from the dolls and their books.
The American Girl doll Rebecca’s religion (Judaism) is woven into her storyline, so that angle wouldn’t be new.
Another signer of the petition recalls when Rebecca debutted: “I’m Jewish. It was a really big deal in the Jewish community near me.” She’d like that same experience for Muslim-American girls.
Sima Quraishi, executive director for the Chicago-based Muslim Women Resource Center, has noticed “a lot of bullying in schools.” Children see and hear things, and act out accordingly.
As for the doll proposal? “This will help,” says Quraishi. “I think it’s a positive thing for all of us.”
Because of recent anti-Muslim violence, the mother of these two sisters decided their real first names would not be on the petition. These are the times we live in. Sad.
I contacted American Girl — then unaware of the petition — for a statement. It reads, in part: “While each request is important and there are many stories yet to tell, we are unable to guarantee when, or if, a particular product will be developed. In the meantime, we have a variety of ways to tell the stories of real girls making a difference that reach millions of girls, including through our magazine, our books, and our digital offerings.”
So no telling whether a Muslim-American American Girl doll will ever exist.
But just in case, a 12-year-old’s saving her money. “I definitely will be the first one in line to buy it.”
Send letters to: firstname.lastname@example.org