Part of American culture: Elk Grove Village mom helps American Girl create Eid outfit for dolls
When Yasmina Blackburn's 8-year-old daughter, Aliya, came home in tears after a holiday celebration at school, it broke her heart.
Aliya and her classmates made artwork 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.
It prompted the Elk Grove Village mom to write a letter to the American Girl doll company seeking Muslim representation in its product line so girls like Aliya could see themselves reflected as part of American culture.
And now, American Girl, owned by Mattel Inc., has launched an Eid al-Fitr doll outfit that Blackburn helped design as part of its new cultural celebration collection. Blackburn also edited the short story accompanying the outfit for cultural accuracy.
"It's important for kids to feel that their holidays are recognized at school and in the public sphere, as well as on toy shelves," said Blackburn, 53, a longtime civil rights activist who comes from a mixed Catholic-Muslim parentage.
Blackburn said when she first wrote American Girl 12 years ago, its then-president wrote back saying the company had no plans to incorporate Muslim holidays, despite having toys for Christmas and Hanukkah.
"I never did digest that letter properly," said Blackburn, who collects American Girl dolls and is part of several online collector communities. "A big theme in all these groups is the lack of diversity. We need more dolls of color."
Last summer, Blackburn again approached the toymaker in the aftermath of a national racial reckoning and global Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
She asked the company's president to reconsider creating Muslim-themed products in keeping with its values and public policies on inclusion and diversity.
This time, American Girl yielded.
The outfit includes a turquoise abaya (long dress) with embroidery, a one-piece pink hijab (head covering) with rhinestones, gold sandals and a gold envelope containing pretend money.
"We were advocating for a Muslim doll. I'm going to take what I can get," Blackburn said. "So many people wanted this, and maybe I was just the one to be able to finally open the door."
This fall, American Girl is debuting a collection of six Cultural Celebration Outfits representing Lunar New Year, Eid al-Fitr, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa. It's the first time the 35-year-old doll maker has introduced Eid and Diwali outfits. The company first launched outfits and accessories for Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Chinese New Year as early as 1996.
"American Girl was built on diverse and inclusive stories and products that inspire and empower girls," said Julie Parks, American Girl director of public relations. "This past year, we've been particularly focused on promoting equality, unity and respect. We've always believed it was important for kids to see themselves in our stories and products as well as to learn about a life or culture that may be different from their own."
These cultural outfits fit any 18-inch dolls and were created with input from several advisers to ensure authenticity. They will be available all year long at American Girl retail stores nationwide and online at americangirl.com, along with a downloadable free brochure providing details about the meaning and importance of each celebration.
Blackburn said her daughter, who turns 20 next month, doesn't play with dolls anymore but is proud of her accomplishment. The outfit already has caused a stir in the doll community, Blackburn said.
"They are eating it up. They are buying it like crazy," she said.
Blackburn hopes it spurs other toy retailers to be more inclusive of ethnic and culturally representative dolls and products.
"This story goes beyond just an American doll. ... It goes to the heart of being represented as an American kid at school, in your classroom celebrations, in books, and just for it to be normal," Blackburn said. "That a little girl wearing hijab is ... part of American (culture)."