“Hawaiian” American Girl? May I Nominate Lilo Instead?

3 Jan

Does the doll above look like she’s a native Hawaiian to you? Me neither. Yet, she’s American Girl’s doll of the year, Kanani. My spouse, Collateral Damage, has a few choice words on this today:

In Hawaiian Kanani means”the beautiful one.” Apparently the beautiful one in Hawaii is Haole. While her last name, Akina, may sound Hawaiian it is actually Japanese (another group known primarily for black hair and eyes and a distinctly non-Caucasian skin tone). So American Girl™®© just decided to appropriate some ethnic sounding names, put a flower in the doll’s hair and call it Hawaiian. Aznuts, as the Hawaiians say. Hell, even Disney – which has a very long history of messing up on ethnic issues — was able to do this right.

I’m surprised to not find more uproar about this on the interwebs. Instead, it would seem that the state is embracing the doll as a way to promote tourism. From USA Today:

The Kauai Visitors Bureau is doing a traditional blessing on the beach for the doll and I’m sure hoping this sparks more interest in the island. Back on the Mainland, girls can take part in Kanani-themed activities at AG stores, including hula lessons, learning about Hawaiian crafts and food. For more information, visit americangirl.com or call 800-845-0005.

If Kanani brings more tourism to the Islands, and creates greater awareness of indigenous Hawaiian culture to the Mainland, then more power to her. But I’m still creeped out.

Full disclosure: My grandparents retired to Hawaii in the 1970s, my parents own real estate there, and I’ve probably spent about a year there over the course of my lifetime. So I’m a Haole too, and a regular visitor, but the fact that I’ve enjoyed poi and spam maki doesn’t make me Hawaiian.

16 Responses to ““Hawaiian” American Girl? May I Nominate Lilo Instead?”

  1. Thefremen January 5, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    Well, my brother in law on Maui (family there since way before statehood) has blonde hair and light skin but is Portuguese/Puerto Rican, although if you ask him he’d say “Puerto Rican” to avoid being associated with the negative stereotype related to Portuguese in Hawaii. But you know. The Japanese last name thing, that makes it a bit difficult. Maybe adopted?

    They have enough anglo American Girl dolls, for one from Hawaii, shoulda been Samoan, Fijian, Native Hawaiian, Japanese, Tongan, Filipino, Japanese, Okinawan, Chinese, Portuguese, Puerto-Rican, or some mix. Really don’t see too many local haoles around, least not with blonde hair.

    Also, not too sure if “haole” should be capitalized anymore since it’s usually not a term for an ethnic group and rather a insult, usually hurled at people with latin background in Hawaii whose skin is too fair.

  2. Cynthia D January 5, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    While I agree that the doll does not look Hawaiian at all, she does look exactly like a friend’s child – who is half Caucasian, one quarter Native American and one quarter Mexican.

  3. m January 5, 2011 at 3:09 pm #

    I live in Hawaii and I haven’t seen much embracing of the doll other than an article about it in the local paper. The general consensus among friends seems to be that the doll is obviously haole. But most of us here are used to the mainland getting Hawaii wrong whether it be how we’re portrayed in movies or on television or the things we hear from people when we’re in the mainland.

    Perhaps the Kauai Visitors Bureau is promoting the doll because the majority population on Kauai is haole. 36.1% based on 2009 census data. This is from a huge influx of mainland transplants over the last 25 years.

    As to the first comment, I’ve lived here all my life and have never heard of the word haole defined as latin people with fair skin. Yes, the word is sometimes used negatively, but it’s mostly used to describe caucasian people from the mainland.

  4. Jihad Punk XXX January 5, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    I dont know what native Hawaiians look like– I’ve never met any. But at first glance, the doll looks either mixed or Latino.

  5. Shermel January 5, 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    This doll looks racially ambiguous. I am sure that’s what they were going for since they obviously do not know what “Hawaiian” looks like. I don’t even know what that looks like.

  6. HapaKapoleiFamilyMom January 5, 2011 at 6:22 pm #

    It’s pretty clear in the press releases and information related to the doll that her family is of mixed race. It very specifically says so.

    So is the point of this posting that you’re only Hawaiian if you’re 100% full-blooded, or that the only acceptable dolls for children to play with are ones that are “completely” dark and ethnic-looking?

    Because as a mixed-race mom of mixed-race kids, I’m thrilled to see a doll that clearly looks and is explained as a mixed-race girl.

  7. cassiecares January 5, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    Oops! That’s kind of like how Disney named the first black princess ‘Tiana.’ All of my black friends cringed. Why not Sarah? or Anna? Sheesh.

  8. Corazon January 5, 2011 at 7:57 pm #


    And MY friend’s daughter, also named Tiana rejoiced.

    What the hell are you trying to say?

  9. Honee January 5, 2011 at 8:19 pm #

    @cassiecares–The name of the first black princess was supposed to be “Maddie” but some of the test audiences decried it as a “slave-sounding name” and it got changed to “Tiana” SMH True story…

  10. Rosanna January 6, 2011 at 11:47 am #

    She looks like a Hapa and there are plenty of Hapas in Hawaii, hell, the term Hapa comes from Hawaii! As a mixed race person myself, it’s insulting for you to assume someone isn’t native to the area just because they are of mixed ancestry.

  11. Jennifer January 6, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    The term “native” is so tricky. How far back does one’s family need to have lived in the area before they’re considered “native?”

    My family’s been in North America for generations, but I wouldn’t consider myself native to the area, especially given the (problematic at best) history of how the land came to be populated as it is today (which is admittedly a somewhat different history in Hawaii, but still resulted in significant loss of indigenous culture). But then again, I wouldn’t say I’m European either, despite the various branches of my family having immigrated from there. So where am I native to?

    Post-modern territory, perhaps. It certainly wasn’t my intent to insult anyone, though. My apologies.

  12. Thefremen January 6, 2011 at 8:47 pm #

    @M I can’t say much personally, since I am white and am from the mainland (although only lived there on account of my ex-wife) so when customers called me “Haole boy” that was the context. “Flip” was used for my Filipino co-worker, injected with the right amount of venom. All I know is that when someone else tells me about their life experience that I couldn’t possibly have lived or observed, I take their word for it. *shrugs*

  13. themadjewess January 7, 2011 at 11:57 am #

    She does not look Hawaiian, she looks creppy, exactly as I wrote on my own blog. Natives to Hawaii are BEAUTIFUL people, the women gorgeous, what a DISGRACE this is!

    Hawaii should make their own doll and tell “American” girl dolls to f—- offfffff.
    Racists with ‘moveon’.org.

  14. alysoncoromandas January 8, 2011 at 7:36 am #

    @Cassiecares–Most Disney princesses have fanciful names like that: Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Aurora/Briar Rose, Giselle…even the traditional ones like Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel aren’t “normal” names at all. “Tiana” fits in perfectly and sounds princessy.

  15. Laura August 19, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    Well, I am Hapa Hawaiian, not Japanese and Hawaiians do not resemble Japanese in the slightest. I will tell you though that the coloring of the doll resembles my daughter who had teal eyes gets a nice tan, and my daughter is a little Hawaiian. The doll looks Haole!

  16. selldw October 1, 2016 at 2:48 pm #

    at first I agree that the doll did not look Hawaiian, but after reading some of the other replies and trying to find out what Hawaiians look like I came to this conclusion.

    The Dole looks just like Sanoe Lake, right down to the bleach blond hair. According to


    Sanoe Lake has a mixed heritage of native Hawaiian Japanese and English descent. So if they were going for a Hawaiian girl of mixed heritage maybe it’s not so awful.

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