This past weekend, my poor six-year-old and I braved the massive lines with a few friends to attend the first ever Hello Kitty Con. I don’t know how my daughter survived the day without completely hating me by the end — it was crowded and visually overstimulating and required spending hours in various lines — but at one point, as we were perusing the retail shop, she actually said to me, “Mommy, this is a dream come true!”
Women and men of all races attended the convention, to be sure, but it included the biggest gathering of Asian American women that I had ever seen in my life. Not girls — in fact, there were very few children in attendance — but grown-ass women, just like me, with boyfriends and careers and bills to pay. Some dressed up in full cosplay gear, while others dressed down in comfortable everyday clothes, but we all carried Hello Kitty with us, literally. My daughter wore an HK sweatshirt, I had my HK x Street Fighter backpack, my best friend wore an HK t-shirt, and many others wore HK tights, shoes, socks, hoodies, handbags, the signature bow, and more. I don’t think the phrase “in my element” has ever been more fitting than it was for me at Hello Kitty Con.
I’m not here to argue whether or not Hello Kitty is an appropriate progressive icon for Asian American women. As a daughter of the Riot Grrrl movement, I’m not going to do this No True Feminist thing with a cat that is five apples tall (in case you’re interested, Time did the story last week). I will say, however, that much like taking piano lessons, being guilt-tripped for bringing home Bs, and being looked at sideways at school for having a weird-smelling lunch, Hello Kitty is one of few shared experiences among many Asian American girls. More than that, she is one of the few happy memories of our childhoods that we can share with each other — not all of us had supportive parents or grew up in safe homes, but many of us have memories of our first Sanrio mirror-and-comb combo, or our first Sanrio multi-compartment pencil box with a dozen buttons and features, or our favorite Sanrio character (Team Little Twin Stars!).
It’s the first real childhood love I’ve been able to pass down to my kids without any qualms. We’re living in different times from our immigrant parents; we’re determined not to repeat their mistakes, and more conscious of the identity issues we’ve inherited from our toys. Sure, maybe Hello Kitty doesn’t have a mouth with which she can roar, but she’s not likely to encourage an eating disorder or fantasies of being blond-haired and blue-eyed, either. She’s one of few characters my six-year-old is interested in (perhaps the only one) that promotes being a child and maintaining childhood friendships, and doesn’t encourage my daughter to obsess over makeup or pretend to do adult things or grow up too fast. Hello Kitty is a way to help me pass down to my daughter my love of paper products and special pencils and erasers, and the wonderful feeling of scribbling an entry in a crisp, new diary. My daughter fell in love with writing thanks, in part, to Hello Kitty.
So I thank you for your 40 years of wonderful, totally adorable service to us girls, Hello Kitty. Thank you for showing us it’s okay to enjoy girlhood and love our friends as only young girls can. Thank you for giving us something to obsess about outside of the size of our bodies or how attractive we are to boys. Thank you for giving us a way to connect with other women in a young and perfectly innocent way. And thank you, most of all, for giving us a way to guiltlessly relive our childhoods with our daughters.