Thursday, December 07, 2006

Josefina, An American Girl

Today in class, one of my students shared a book in the American Girl "Josefina" line. The book is Welcome to Josefina's World, 1824: Growing up on America's Southwest Frontier. From the American Girl website is this synopsis:
Inside this beautiful hardcover book you'll see what growing up was like during Josefina's times in 1824 New Mexico. Look inside a Pueblo Indian village, and welcome a trading caravan from Mexico. 
To her credit, the student is critically analyzing the ways in which the series portrays dolls of color, and is finding problems with those portrayals.

One page of Welcome to Josefina's World includes an old, black and white photograph of two Pueblo women. One woman is sitting in front of the other. The camera position is behind and to their left. The woman in back has her hands on the shoulders of the woman in front of her. It is not clear what they are doing, but the caption says that lice were a problem, and that these two women were likely removing lice from each other.

Were lice a problem? Yes. Are they a problem? Yes. Only for Native people past or present? NO. Lice don't care about race, ethnicity, or class. Yet, it is one of those things that is attributed to lower class people of color. I'd have to get a copy of the "Welcome to..." book for each of the American Girls, but I'm willing to bet that the white dolls don't have lice. (If you're in a library with these books, you could help me and readers with this question... Send me an email or post your findings in the comments section of the blog.)

Thanks, Fi, for bringing this book to class.

Update: One of the other "Welcome to..." books (about Felicity, a white character) shows a lice comb as an artifact. I'm glad it is there, but I think that the two images are vastly different in what they convey and what they invoke in the reader. See comments below.


Theresa said...

"Welcome to Felicity's World, 1774," page 35 contains a photo of a lice comb with the caption, "Lice, tiny creatures that dig into the scalp and suck blood, were a common problem. Fine tooth-combs were used to remove the pests."
Page 23, contains references bedbugs.

Anonymous said...

The comment on the photo is an INTERPRETATION and it is not fact since the FACT that the women are removing lice from each other cannot be PROVED! A lice comb is a lice comb on the other hand, and that's a FACT! So, yes, there is a serious problem with historical accuracy in the placement of that photo with that interpretive statement in the book about Josefina.

EVERYONE had lice, had fleas, stunk, didn't take baths way back when; as far as being clean and not so stinky, it is highly likely a lot of Indians stunk less than their white contemporaries if you study the general hygiene habits of white settlers back then. Yucky, stinky!! For one thing, the white women especially had simply more layers of clothes to stink up than most Indian women did. I mean the white women wore LAYERS of the same underwear for a week or more! I know I'm being blunt, but we forget these things in books for children, especially, sooooo easily.....

I'd like to recommend as an aside a fascinating historical research site called:
The online Museum of don't be shocked, everyone, it comes recommended by the New York Times and is a highly respected historical research site. Publsihers of historical books for girls and young teen girls and older teen girls could learn a lot from let's be fair and honest all around about dirt, diesease, and the messier, not so fun, but necessary parts of daily life both today and historically, in our own culture and others as well.