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Stargazing in San Pedro de Atacama | © European Southern Observatory/Wikipedia
Stargazing in San Pedro de Atacama | © European Southern Observatory/Wikipedia
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How 2018's American Girl Proves Chile is Leading the Way in Science and Technology

Picture of Harry Stewart
Updated: 7 March 2018
Since as far back as 1986, a popular line of dolls known as the American Girl has been released every year, to much fanfare and applause, with an ever-evolving quest to quash prejudice by creating dolls from diverse ethnic and social backgrounds. This year’s model might just prove to be the most groundbreaking of all.

The most recent addition, a young girl by the name of Luciana Vega, is a curious soul of Chilean descent who dreams of becoming the very first astronaut to land on Mars. Heritage aside, it’s her unique love for science which has caused many to take notice.

Upon launching the doll in late 2017, Katy Dickson, the president of American Girl, said: “Luciana is a role model for today’s girls—empowering them to defy stereotypes, embrace risks and failures, and chart their own course in life—whatever the goal.”

She might be on to something.

Not so many years ago, girl’s dolls were almost entirely white-skinned, blonde-haired caricatures who cared only for looking pretty and rearing offspring. The fact that today’s biggest new toy is defining gender roles as an aspiring astronaut rather than a ditzy bimbo speaks volumes about how far we as a society have progressed over the years.

Then there is the South American angle, one that has so far been inadequately explored. Two children’s books which accompanied the launch gave little information on Luciana’s Chilean roots, much to the disappointment of her fans throughout the South American nation. Thankfully, that all looks like it’s bound to change in the next installment.

“Her third book (Luciana: Out of This World) is due out this May, is set in Chile, features a Chilean Astrobiologist, and describes several Chilean family traditions. We consulted with a Chilean culture expert on the story, so we hope you’ll agree that it does a good job of accurately representing Luciana’s Chilean extended family and heritage,” said Stephanie Spanos, an American Girl spokesperson.

The decision is unlikely to be coincidental considering Chile has quite the track record when it comes to astronomical pursuits.

Home to a whopping 40% of the world’s observatory infrastructure—with that number projected to increase to 70% by 2020—the country is at the forefront of celestial studies. Though this is largely due to the idyllically dry, high altitude climate of the northern Atacama desert, the women of Chile have always had a tendency to look up to the stars.

Stargazing in San Pedro de Atacama
Stargazing in San Pedro de Atacama | © European Southern Observatory/Wikipedia

María Teresa Ruiz, for example, is at the forefront of her game, receiving numerous awards, authoring countless books, and being the first person to discover the coveted brown dwarf celestial body. Then there is Millarca Valenzuela, a geologist who for years watched and collected meteorites as they fell from the sky. Just recently in 2017, Chilean astronomer Natalie Ulloa became the first person to observe a gravitational wave caused by the collision of two neutron stars.

Such examples are a testament to a greater trend developing in the country, where more and more women are becoming involved in a notoriously male-dominated field. At the highly regarded University of Chile, female STEM enrollments have increased by an impressive 12% over the last five years.

With a popular new doll inspiring young girls to defy stereotypes and follow their dreams, the amount of future female STEM professionals, both in Chile and elsewhere, could become sky high.