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American Girl represents Chinese American identity with new "Girl of the Year," 2022 year in review

By: Téa Tamburo

Image description: White background with image of Corinne, a Chinese doll in winter clothes and blue hair highlights, next to her title book. Large text reads “Corinne Tan,” and under it says “American Girl’s first Chinese American ‘Girl of the Year.’”
Image credit to American Girl

American Girl recently released Corinne Tan, their first Chinese American “Girl of the Year.” Corinne is a skier who lives in Aspen, Colorado in a mixed family. Corinne’s accessories feature a ski set, snow clothing, and like many prominent American Girl characters, Corinne comes with a book, in which she learns to confront and stand up against xenophobia.


Corinne’s release follows a year filled with anti-Asian hate crimes and an uprising from the Asian American community. Corinne is not the first Asian American doll the company has released, including Ivy Ling, who was eventually discontinued from the historic line and Jess, a biracial Japanese American “Girl of the Year.” However, Corinne is the first Chinese American “Girl of the Year” and is a perfect representation of diversity and the Chinese American experience at a time when it’s desperately needed.


Growing up, American Girl products were a staple at my birthdays and Christmases, and I would always ask for dolls and accessories to match. While my parents did get me a doll with long black hair, she wasn’t the doll I saw on the cover of American Girl magazines or posed for a photo in stores. So now, about 10 years later, seeing Corinne makes me think about what I needed years ago: widespread Chinese American representation.


I live in Chicago, and it’s about a 30-minute walk from American Girl’s flagship store. I remember walking by the store and seeing girls carrying their “Girl of the Year” dolls and how popular they are amongst girls that age. Because of this, Corinne appeals to both the popularity of “Girl of the Year” and also to Chinese American girls, like myself, who may need to see more role models that look like them.


Not only did American Girl represent Chinese American identity with Corinne and her younger sister Gwynn, they went the extra step to enlist a member of the Chinese American community, author Wendy Wan-Long Shang, actively raising up Asian American voice when bringing representation to a young demographic. Beyond just bringing Chinese American representation to stores, American Girl announced they would partner with AAPI Youth Rising, a nonprofit made up of young people raising awareness about xenophobia against Asian Americans, and donated $25,000 to it's cause.


Surprisingly enough, it wasn't until I was a freshman in high school that I was exposed to the term "xenophobia." Part of this was because the COVID-19 pandemic, and the racism that came with it, had yet to begin, but mainly because it was not discussed in books and exposed to girls like myself while growing up. Seeing Corinne's books featuring her confronting xenophobia and representing Chinese American girls is something that's been necessary in the Chinese American community for a while, but especially during the pandemic and Asian American community uprising. Even though I've matured and don't carry my dolls with me everywhere, I still am here in appreciation of a quintessential childhood toy, evolved to represent what younger me needed.

 

Image description: White background with image of Corinne, a Chinese doll in winter clothes and blue hair highlights, next to her title book. Large text reads “Corinne Tan,” and under it says “American Girl’s first Chinese American ‘Girl of the Year.’”

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