American Girl has unveiled its first Chinese American “Girl of the Year” in an effort to address challenges children may face amid a sharp rise in anti-Asian hate incidents exacerbated by the pandemic, the company said.
The Mattel-owned company announced last week that its 2022 doll is named Corinne Tan, who is an avid skier from Colorado who is adjusting to changes after her parent’s divorce.
She’s proud of her heritage and is trying to find “courage to speak up when faced with xenophobic comments,” like being told she has “Kung flu,” a racist reference to COVID-19, according to a statement from the company.
Her backstory, like many “Girl of the Year” dolls, is timely: Reports of racist remarks and deadly violence against Asian and Asian Americans increased dramatically as the coronavirus began spreading across the nation in March 2020 and some people, including former President Donald Trump, blamed China for the pandemic.
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More than 10,000 anti-Asian hate incidents were reported between March 19, 2020, and September 30, 2021, to Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks the incidents.
Development of the doll’s backstory started in early 2020, but as the pandemic began to spread the company decided to address what girls like Corinne might experience, including the rise in anti-Asian sentiment, by working with experts and advisers who weighed in on the authenticity and accuracy of key products, the company said in a statement to USA TODAY.
Author Wendy Wan-Long Shang was among those who helped craft the character.
“What I really hope is that there is some part of Corinne’s story that makes readers feel seen, whether it’s because they are Asian American, or because they’re part of a blended family, or because they love skiing,” Shang said in a statement. “I think when readers feel seen, they realize that they matter and their experiences matter, and that they are meant to be the stars of their own stories!”
As part of the release, American Girl also said it would donate $25,000 to a campaign asking schools and teachers to include at least one lesson about Asian American and Pacific Islander history and culture started by AAPI Youth Rising, a student-led nonprofit.
“Like Corinne, we should all feel empowered to speak out against negative stereotypes, said Mina Fedor, AAPI Youth rising board member, in an interview with American Girl. “You can speak out, be an ally, and a good friend. By starting small and being kind to those around you, you are making a difference.”
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American Girl has created eight characters of Asian descent in 35 years, including Chinese American doll Ivy Ling that was discontinued in 2014, the company said. Corinne is the first Chinese American “Girl of the Year.” The 18-inch doll, plus a book detailing her backstory, cost $110 and additional accessories are available for purchase.
Toymakers, including Mattel, have been working to create more inclusive products in recent years. In 2020, American Girl’s “Girl of the Year” was Joss Kendrick, a 10-year-old surfer and competitive cheerleader who uses a hearing aid, the company’s first-ever doll with a disability.
In 2019, Mattel-owned Barbie also expanded its Fashionistas line to include dolls in wheelchairs and a removable prosthetic leg and introduced a line of gender-neutral dolls. Mattel, which also makes games, adapted UNO by putting Braille on the corner of each card.
Contributing: Amy Haneline, USA TODAY
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