America is considered that greatest country in the world. Its greatness however has nothing to do with statistics like its GDP or citizens rights or even freedom; something it stands for. If you haven't been living under a rock you know that the country has its issues; racism, gun-violence, abortion laws, police brutality, you name it. Yet somewhere within the folds of social issues there is a sense of opportunity and hope that the rest of the world looks at with glittering eyes.
More than 2.5 million Indians live in America. First and second-generation Americans and their families moved to the states for the American dream. Navigating multiple identities, South Asian immigrants face everything from cultural dilemma to outright discrimination. There are the microagressions and ignorance based on race, the sense of not belonging despite having born and lived there with the, "No but where are you really from?" and often times the pressure from your own community to date or marry someone with the same ethnicity. The alienating "real American" narrative suggests that immigrants are the ones who can actually tell us what it is like to be an American.
This year, a South Asian doll was named Girl of the Year by American Girl, the iconic enterprise creating an 18-inch line of dolls portraying boys and girls of a variety of ethnicities, faiths, and social classes from different time periods throughout history. American Girl started in 1986 and became more popular than Barbie in the US for the inclusive and elaborate background stories they created for their dolls or 'girls'. Each doll boasted an extensive collection of historically appropriate clothing, furniture and accessories as well. A lot of American women still look back at American Girl fondly for sparking their imagination with stories and inspiring them in their childhoods.
2023 Girl of the Year, Kavi Sharma, short for Kavika, is the brand’s first-ever South Asian doll. According to American Girl, an Indian American from New Jersey who loves to sing, dance and hang out with her friends. Just a short train ride away, her favorite place to visit is New York City — specifically Broadway. Kavi takes weekly classical Indian dance classes, and sometimes dances to Bollywood songs. Her tight-knit family also celebrates Diwali and Holi together.
Each Kavi doll comes with a journal detailing her life and later in 2023, a separately sold hardcover book written by The New York Times bestseller Varsha Bajaj will delve deeper into Kavi’s backstory.
American Girl has always been known for its inclusive and aspirational characters. As opposed to Barbie, its counterpart, that has also been called the instrument of female oppression perpetuating beauty standards and body image issues among children, American Girl is loved by the parents as well for the kind of story-based narratives it sets for young girls.
Bringing in an Indian author to work on the story for Kavi and keeping the representation authentic is also something I find particularly endearing. In the invisible battlefield of identities and sense of home that the South Asian diaspora is in living in America, Kavi is perhaps a gateway to Indian culture for Americans and a source of representation that Indian-Americans can take comfort from.