From American Girls to American Women(Writers): American Indian Stories

American Indian Stories by Zitkala- Sa is a refreshing change from the slave narratives we have spent the better part of the semester reading. I will even go so far as to say that this is my favorite literary work that we have read thus far. Instead of constantly encountering the very real,  all- too painful imagery of slavery in every chapter, I as a reader am encountering a different kind of pain- that of an American Indian girl struggling to find her identity in a country where the influence of her people is dwindling rapidly. But, as I am presented with this new kind of hurt that only an “outsider” can know, in Stories I am also presented with a type of joy that I can honestly say I did not find in previous readings. This joy that I am discovering personally stems from the mystical, magical and spiritual childhood anecdotes that Zitkala- Sa chooses to share with her readers in the earliest part of her writing in Stories.

Native American culture, at least from we have learned from our own history classes, consists heavily in oral story- telling centered in mysticism, magic, spirits and symbolism. Zitlaka- Sa shares with us how the elders of her village, her aunt and her mother fill her young mind with tales that make our physical world much more mysterious and powerful. Zatlaka- Sa herself is influenced by this storytelling and sees other- worldly wonder in the smallest of things- plums, her own shadows, squirrels. She analyzes the world around her in the very free- spirited way that we would expect for a stereotypical Native American to. She reminds me of a type of Disney princess style Pocahontas, rooted in the oral history and morals of her people, yet devious, strong- willed and initially unafraid to face the “palefaces”.

Through her writing, Zitkala- Sa also reminds me of something else, something which was a great source of joy to me as a child and is currently attributing to the joy I am experiencing as an adult reading her work:

American Girl Dolls.

For many little girls, receiving their first American Girl Doll is a big idea- especially if you live here in New York City, or elsewhere in the nation, where there is an actual American Girl Store. Getting a box in the mail and unwrapping the boxed doll at home simply cannot compare to the joy(and utter chaos and screaming hysteria) that you experience as a little girl(or the poor parents who gets to take them there, bless your brave soul) in the American Girl Doll store. It’s a whole day long process- moms take their young daughters, put them in their best and cutest outfits(and if you’re one of two sisters like I am, you can bet your bottom dollar that mom is going to put you in matching, color- coordinated outfits), and spare no expense at the number of cute and sparkly hair barrettes, little bracelets, shiny shoes and pretty lacy stockings she buys in the hopes that you’ll be willing to let her stuff you into ANY of them. Then of course, as a 6-11 year- old girl, once mom has struggled into getting you into your clothes and you’ve finally gotten into the store, all you literally want to do is run. Anywhere, everywhere- and touch every single thing you can possibly get your hands on. But of course, your mother will hold you back and force you to pose for pictures of the momentous first store visit as you whine and point at the doll you want the most, and the thousands of dollars worth of furniture, clothing and accessories that come with her. When she finally cuts you loose, you rush over to where your favorite doll is.

Girls and their parents then spend hours primping and preparing their dolls, picking out the perfect outfit & making sure that it’s exactly what they want- all this preparation goes towards what is really, the most fun, exciting and important part of the day- the tea party. At the American Girl Store location in New York City, at least when I was there many years ago, after choosing and purchasing your doll, your were invited to share in a “tea party” with your family and your new doll. There, you would be seated at a table with real china cups and plates, and get to eat like a “fancy big girl” with your doll comfortably seated next to you in some type of dolly high chair. At this point, mom and dad or whoever could take as many pictures as they wanted of you, you were so engrossed and wrapped up in your doll that you barely seemed to notice or care.

Many of the girls I saw in the tea room would have their noses buried in books. With every American Girl doll came a book that explained their origins and historical context in relation to America at the time of their existence this book was especially essential if you had purchased one of the 8 historical dolls instead of a “just like me” doll. The historical American Girl Doll stories always started off with a young girl account and impression of their time era, and expressed thoughts through the words of a child on how to fix the problem, or how they liked or didn’t like the changes going on around them. The American Girl company truly prides themselves in using their products to empower young girls and help to inspire them that they can be anything that they want and that they can change the world, so in every book would be a part of the story where each little girl took up a cause that was popular during her time period, and made efforts towards that cause. By the end of the book, each girl always saw the culmination of her hard work and received some kind of award or inspiring speech from an adult who had recognized their passions for helping humanity and their zeal for learning and discovery.

The book relating to Kaya, the Native American American Girl Doll, reads very much to me like the accounts of Zitkala- Sa. In order to make the historical context more appealing to young girls, Kaya’s story stressed the magic and mystery of Indian culture, just as Zitkala- Sa uses stories from her upbringing to help readers understand her morals and how she handles the difficult situations she faces her in life. She also reminds me of Kaya in personality, because both girls share a sense of curiosity and also a thirst for knowledge. initially, like Kaya, what brings Zitkala to the land of the ‘palefaces” is not her want to learn, but her need to discover “the land of the red apples”, “the east”, and “the iron horse”. Over time, they understand and develop the desire to learn.

I think it is important that companies like American Girl exist and that this class, American Women Writers does as well- both are serving as means through which society can see that women are not just all tea- party throwing pretty faces in matching outfits with hair barrettes and shiny shoes and frilly tights. We have thoughts, and passions, morals and beliefs which can drive us to change the world. We are curious and do not shy away in the face of the unknown. We want to know the world and seek it out, watch it change and see how we can take these changes and make sure that they are good ones. Zitkala- Sa and Kaya from American Girl are two girls who though small, have big wills and ambitions, which lead them to do things like take up important causes and work positively towards them, or write their memoirs and share them with other so that they may learn. And that is what brings me joy about these writing, that people can know and see what women and girl are capable of, especially when you give them education.

Women seem to historically have to sacrifice much more for the sake of receiving an education than males. It is always a long and toilsome journey towards knowledge for a woman, just as through history it has been for people of color, and to be both, as seen in all the slave narratives we have read thus far, make it doubly hard to receive what is a privilege for women and girls, but a right for men and boys.

Let’s change that. Let’s get more American girls, and girls all over the world, into the classroom, to make sure that they become the great American Women Writers- or Global Women anythings- that they want to be.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the American Girl Doll Kaya, or anything else in relation to the company, visit this ink:

http://store.americangirl.com/agshop/static/kayadoll.jsp

Over and out from this American Girl

– W

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