All the Time
I wanted Princess Barbie, with long blond hair that you could brush and a beautiful shiny gown. She even came with a shimmery white tiara, which, in my eight-year-old mind, crowned her at the top of her Barbie world. My parents looked at me expectantly as I tore through the wrapping paper in childlike excitement. As the pile of shredded paper around me grew larger, so did my anticipation.
But instead of a beautiful princess with golden tresses, what I found was an unfamiliar black-haired "friend" of Barbie, who wore a floral wrap skirt over a pink bathing suit.
Disappointment passed over my eyes as I examined the doll more closely. With her dark hair and slanted eyes, she was a dull comparison to her blond friend. My other dolls were all alike and beautiful with their clouds of blond (or light-brown) hair, broad, toothy smiles, and wide-open eyes. Even Ken had a perfectly painted-on coif of blond hair and flashed a winning grin. I didn't think this new doll would go riding in Barbie's convertible with Ken. Why would he pick her when he already had so many blond friends to choose from? Besides, instead of a wide movie-star grin, her lips were curved into a more secretive, sly smile. I wondered what secrets she was hiding. Maybe she had crooked teeth,
I announced that I loved my new doll. I didn't want my mom and dad to feel bad. Maybe the store didn't have any more Princess Barbie dolls, so they had to buy me the leftovers, or the ones that no one wanted. I looked at the name of this new black-haired addition to my perfect Barbie family. Kira. Kira didn't even have shoes, though her feet were still arched up, as if they were waiting expectantly for their missing shoes. She seemed incomplete. She was probably missing lots of things beside her shoes. My other Barbies all had colorful plastic high heels to complement their fashionable dresses. Their outfits were perfect.
"Alaina," my mom said, "Get your things ready so I can drive you over to Sarah's house!" I threw the dark-haired doll into my backpack with the other Barbies I was bringing; Sarah and I always shared the latest additions to our Barbie collections. Everyone always said that Sarah would grow up to look like Goldie Hawn, some famous movie star. I didn't think I would grow up to look like anybody important, not unless I was like Cinderella, and a fairy godmother went Zap! so I could be transformed, like magic. Sarah's hair fell in soft waves down her back, while my own black hair was slippery and straight, like uncooked spaghetti. I bet Sarah had gotten the Princess Barbie for Christmas.
I liked going over to Sarah's house. Her mom didn't care if we ate raspberries from the backyard without washing them. The last time I went there, I saw my best friend pluck a juicy purple berry right off the bush and into her mouth. I was amazed that she didn't care about dirt. Sarah's mom let us taste cookie dough from the batter when she baked cookies. I guess only Chinese people cared about germs. My mother never baked cookies anyway. Baking cookies is what white mothers do all the time -- they like to make things from "scratch" that turn out soft and chewy, while Chinese mothers buy cookies from the supermarket that are dry and go crunch, unless you dip them in milk. Sarah's mother made the best macaroni and cheese too. Obviously she made it from "scratch." I hoped I was eating lunch there today.
After we pulled into Sarah's driveway, I jumped out of the car and said good-bye to my mom. Inside, Sarah and I ran up the stairs so I could look at her new dollhouse. On the way, we passed piles of laundry warm from the dryer, toys spread out the floor in front of the TV, and newspapers scattered on the kitchen table. I was jealous. Sarah's mother probably didn't make them clean up every time someone came over.
Upstairs, I dumped my Barbies out of my backpack so we could compare our collections. Before I could even look at her dolls, Sarah turned to me.
"Look what I got!" she said proudly.
I knew it. Sarah had gotten the Princess Barbie.
And what did I have to show her? A plain Barbie friend with a funny name, Kira, in an ordinary bathing suit and a skirt that was just a piece of cloth that needed to be tied; it didn't even slip on like real clothes. My doll had straight black hair, no shoes, and worst of all, she didn't even know how to smile right.
"Well ... she has pretty flowers on her skirt," Sarah said helpfully. 'And she looks kind of like you!"
She did? But I didn't want to look like this strange new "friend" of Barbie. Everyone knew that the Barbies with the blond hair were the best. They were the original ones. And they always got to wear the prettiest dresses. I noticed something, but I didn't want to say it out loud. The best dolls, the most glamorous ones, were always the ones that seemed to look like Sarah.
"Sarah, honey," her mom called. "Why don't you help me bring up some cookies for you and Alaina?"
My best friend turned to me. "I'll be right back!" she chirped. "If you want to, your dolls can try on Princess Barbie's clothes," she offered generously.
Sarah skipped out of the room, her blond pigtails swinging around her head. I turned to my Kira doll, regarding her simple outfit. I highly doubted that Princess Barbie's costume would look right on her. Whoever heard of a black-haired doll with slanted eyes wearing a crown? Maybe it wouldn't even fit right. Hesitatingly, I picked up Sarah's Princess Barbie. She really was beautiful. Slowly, I slipped off her gown and dressed her in one of the extra doll outfits, a shiny purple top and silver pants. Princess Barbie continued smiling blankly at me. I was glad she didn't mind that I had changed her clothes.
Carefully, I buttoned my Kira doll into the glittery princess gown. No Velcro closures here; this dress was glamorous, like what a princess would wear in real life. The sunlight through Sarah's bedroom window made the dress sparkle, as if my plain dark-haired Kira doll was actually a princess. The doll's secretive smile began to comfort me, as if we shared a secret together. We both knew this wasn't her real gown, but maybe she could be princess for a day. Just maybe. I stared at her. Finally I placed Barbie's iridescent tiara on top of Kira's jet-black hair. And what do you know? It fit perfectly.
Girls!: Emerging Voices Explore Culture,
Identity, and Growing Up Asian American
the Exclusive AllHip Interview of
Editor Vickie Nam where she talks about her experiences as
a journalist, about editing the book, experiences growing up Asian in
America, her thoughts on Pop Culture, Mentors and on finding her voice
and personal mission.
from the Book Yell-Oh Girls!
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