Sunday, September 21, 2014

In Search of Latin American Fashion Dolls (Hispanic Heritage Month)

My initial response when D7ana posted about Hispanic Heritage Month was excitement: exploring more in this area fit really well with my junket through south Phoenix, and I figured surely the central library would have educational and cultural displays, as they do that sort of thing.

Except, this time, not. They're busy moving Government Documents to the fifth floor, which means eliminating half the non-fiction section, which really makes me wonder where the books are going. Anyway, Elena Rodriguez (a.k.a. Teresa) took Hayden on this disappointing trip to get her out of the house while Meygan and Sophie redid the bathroom, and all they came home with was a book.

The one to the left is "Indian," to the right, mestiza.
It's called Mexican Popular Art: Clothing and Dolls, by Wendy Scalzo, and it's quite a fine book if you're interested in souvenir and collector dolls. I learned that the ubiquitous full skirt and peasant blouse has a name -- china poblana -- and was a briefly popular, regional fashion of the 19th century that was reinvented in the 1920s as "national costume." This fits nicely with my theory that much of our beloved past was invented in the 1920s, so it makes me happy. (How Buildings Learn has an entire section on the invention of Southwestern architecture in the 1920s.)

My real interest, though, is in popular dolls -- the Barbie equivalents. Let's go find some.

"Mexican fashion dolls" got me to the Mexican Fashion Dolls!!!! Flickr group, where the photos look very Barbie-like until one suddenly comes upon Valerie. Valerie was a 1970s friend of Barbie made only in Mexico by the local licensee, Cipsa. With her high arched brows and skunk-striped hair, Valerie is unbelievably fabulous and straight out of a telenovela. She goes for big bucks on eBay, and I find her more compelling than any of the early vintage Barbies. If anybody wants to bring her back in an articulated version, I'm there.

The same group led me to the 2010 exhibition on Mexican Barbies and their clones at MUJAM (museum of vintage toys). It seems the reason that Cipsa relied so heavily on the Steffi mold was that competitor Lili Ledy's Barbara Parlante used the Barbie face of the time. Lily Ledy also had the license for Tressy dolls and added Tressy's hot boyfriend Ricardo.

A few other Mexican fashion doll photos before moving on to other countries:
After this wealth of eye candy, I had to try some other countries. . . say. . . Venezuela! It's the Miss Barbie Venezuela pageant, apparently the ultimate aspiration of Barbie Basics.

Argentina is where the first giant Barbie store was launched.

Let's go look at Falabella, the big Chilean department store! Their doll selection is mostly familiar American brands, except for Violetta, who's apparently from the Disneylatino equivalent of Hannah Montana. Violetta looks rather like a Sparkle Girl.

Latin America is apparently wall-to-wall platinum-blond Barbies. I checked a couple other stores, including Curacao, which specifically aims itself at the working-class Latino market in Arizona and southern California (hint: mostly dark-skinned), and it's all Barbie. Even today's assimilated Teresa, who's no darker than Summer's tennis tan, is absent.

Elena/Teresa tries to be a good sport about comparing skin tone with an Experimental Subject.
One of the troubling features of the whole "Mexico Barbie" debate -- which I'm not going to plunge into, because it's a quagmire -- was that nobody, including Mattel, seemed to remember that Teresa was supposed to represent the contemporary Latina. She even celebrated her quincea├▒era back in 1994.

After confirming that I wasn't hallucinating that Teresa in the 1990s looked like the women I see around Phoenix, I had to go stare at vintage Valeries for a while to regain my composure.

I'm not sure if I like the purplish landscape or the Phoenix better.

Hayden and Elena ponder art from the library's regional collection. I love handouts like these as a source of free, authentic dollhouse art. As it happens, none of these pieces turn out to reflect anything really Hispanic except maybe from the romanticized view of American settlers, but the colors are pretty.


  1. Informative post! I bought Mara the "controversial" Mexico Barbie Doll of the World and will be featuring her in my HHM post which is on hold until Mixis Rosa arrives.

    1. Thanks! I will be fascinated to see what you think of her. My opinions ended up very split and muddled.

  2. Thanks for sharing your finds, Small Places!

    I just pored over that link to the 1990s Teresa dolls. So glad to have had some of them.

    Thanks for the link to the controversial Mexican Barbie: I so would like to do a post on that. Just a lot of good stuff in this post.

    1. More Mexican Barbie posts! More, more!

      My (Asian) younger sisters had the Teresa and whoever-was-Asian-that-week dolls, in numbers. I like them better than the current iterations.

    2. Hi Smaller Places! Posted on the Mattel Rebelde dolls late last night. I'll be doing something on Teresa as well as some non-Mattel dolls and/or action figures. I'd like to include this post in a list of other Hispanic/Latino doll posts if you don't mind.

      I write to you as well - more, more, more articles ;-)

    3. I am totally happy to be linked with other Hispanic/Latino doll posts. Maybe it'll smoke out somebody who's secretly a Valerie expert.

  3. Clap clap clap! What a great post and very interesting read.

    The assimilation is real. Theresa is no longer Hispanic and Rachelle is no longer Asian. Wonder what will happen to Nikki next.

    1. Thanks! Nikki (in her Fashionista Artsy form) provided the body for 1990s Pocahontas (now reborn as Rebecca with Tohono O'odham background), so any paler, and she'll be making Malibu Barbie look dark.

  4. Great post! If Teresa had a quiencera she is actually younger than Barbie. It would mean she is 15 y.o. I really like the way the older Mexican dolls lips look. It seems they are about to speak! I have a problem with so many blue eyes "Hispanic" dolls. I have Mexicans in my family and none or them have blue eyes. lol

    1. Thanks! The Steffi mold was used to great advantage with the Cipsa dolls. I actually like them better than the U.S. Steffi.