When Yasmina Blackburn’s 8-year-old daughter Aliya came home in tears after a school party, it broke her heart.
Aliya and her classmates made works of art and sang traditional songs for Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. She couldn’t understand why there was no recognition of Eid, the Islamic holiday her family observes.
This prompted the mother from Elk Grove Village to write a letter to the American Girl doll company seeking Muslim representation in its product line so that girls like Aliya can see themselves as part of the culture. American.
And now American Girl, owned by Mattel Inc., has released an Eid al-Fitr doll outfit that Blackburn has helped design as part of their new cultural celebrations collection. Blackburn also edited the short story accompanying the outfit for cultural precision.
“It is important that children feel their vacation is recognized in school and in the public sphere, as well as on toy shelves,” said Blackburn, 53, a longtime civil rights activist from a mixed Catholic-Muslim parentage.
Blackburn said when she first wrote to American Girl 12 years ago, her then president responded by saying the company had no plans to incorporate Muslim holidays, despite the made her have toys for Christmas and Hanukkah.
“I never quite digested this letter,” said Blackburn, who collects American Girl dolls and is part of several online collecting communities. “A big theme in all of these groups is the lack of diversity. We need more colored dolls.”
Last summer, Blackburn approached the toy maker again following a national racial calculation and the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
She asked the president of the company to reconsider creating Muslim-themed products in line with its values and public policies on inclusion and diversity.
This time, American Girl gave in.
The new American Girl Eid outfit that Elk Grove Village resident Yasmina Blackburn helped design features a turquoise abaya with embroidery, a pink one-piece hijab with rhinestones, gold sandals and a golden envelope containing fake money.
-Mark Welsh | Staff photographer
The outfit includes a turquoise abaya (long dress) with embroidery, a one-piece pink hijab (headwear) with rhinestones, gold sandals, and a gold envelope containing fake money.
“We were arguing for a Muslim doll. I’ll take what I can get,” Blackburn said. “So many people wanted this, and maybe I was just the one who could finally open the door.”
This fall, American Girl is launching a collection of six cultural celebration outfits featuring the Lunar New Year, Eid al-Fitr, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. This is the first time that the 35-year-old doll maker has presented Eid and Diwali outfits. The company first launched outfits and accessories for Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Chinese New Year in 1996.
“American Girl is built on diverse and inclusive stories and products that inspire and empower girls,” said Julie Parks, director of public relations for American Girl. “Last year we focused particularly on promoting equality, unity and respect. We have always believed it was important that children see themselves in our stories and products as well as ‘learn more about a life or culture that may be different from theirs. “
Elk Grove Village resident Yasmina Blackburn helped design the new Eid outfit for 18-inch dolls, as part of the American Doll’s “Cultural Celebration” collection.
-Mark Welsh | Staff photographer
These cultural outfits fit all 18 inch dolls and were created with input from several advisors to ensure authenticity. They will be available year-round at American Girl stores nationwide and online at americangirl.com, along with a free downloadable brochure providing details on the meaning and importance of each celebration.
Blackburn said her daughter, who will turn 20 next month, no longer plays with dolls but is proud of her accomplishment. The outfit has already caused a stir in the doll community, said Blackburn.
“They eat it. They buy it like crazy,” she said.
Blackburn hopes this will inspire other toy retailers to include more dolls and ethnic and cultural products.
“This story goes beyond a simple American doll.… It goes to the heart of being portrayed as an American child in school, in your classroom celebrations, in books, and just to make it normal.” , Blackburn said. “That a little girl wearing the hijab is… part of American (culture). “