90’s culture brings back bittersweet memories

Elegantly made and clothed,  the 24 Lolita dolls each had a different nationality; combined, their unique clothes and accessories filled a collectible trunk.

None of them, her mother said, would be allowed through to America. So shortly after her eighth birthday, Annie Nguyen-Vo sold every last one.

“I cried,” she said. “I was like, ‘Ma, can we bring even one’? And she was like no, I can’t bring any. And I was just like why? I can’t bring any?”

For Nguyen-Vo, now a junior, Lolita dolls bring back memories of her childhood. She grew up in Phuoc Tinh on the southern Vietnamese coast, her days filled with the rhythms of a fishing town. Every year she watched the men of the village mend their nets for fishing season. She rode her German shepherd along the beach and spent hours dressing up her dolls.

“I didn’t want to leave,” Nguyen-Vo said. “My mom was like, ‘You’ll get a better life in America. [She was right] but I still want my childhood back.”

You don’t find Lolita dolls easily anymore. The name has all but disappeared, its only remaining record of existence the stray mentions by vintage doll collectors. Other Asian fashion dolls carry on the design—the oversized head, the wide, colorful, anime-style eyes, the spindly legs. But four-year-old Nguyen-Vo fell in love with the Lolita doll, and it’s the Lolitas that she remembers when she thinks of her childhood.

Pop culture was no less influential on the other side of the world. Students grew up in the age of classic Disney and early Pixar, when the newness still lingered on films like Mulan (1998), Shrek (2001) and Finding Nemo (2003). Remembering old toys and movies brings back a simpler time: a time of no homework, fewer complications and childhood adventures.

For freshman Ann Morris, it’s a television show: the ‘90s comedy Friends takes her back nearly six years, to when her parents were still together.

“My mom loved to watch Friends,” she said. “So any time I see Friends, I get to know my mom, kind of, or her sense of humor because of that.”

Freshman Thomas Lee’s obsession with 2002’s Spider-Man caused him a serious injury.

“When I was seven, I watched Spider-Man,” he said. “And when I got home, I climbed on the roof and I jumped off, trying to be Spider-Man, and then I broke my arm.” He also sprained his ankle and wrist and had to get stitches on a cut on his hand, still scarred over today.

Senior Keiren Velez associates classic Disney movies with childhood.

“My friends and I—well, I lived up the hill from them, and I would go down to their house and they had a collection of Disney Princess movies,” she said. “And every Friday night we would watch Snow White through—I think—The Little Mermaid.”

She was jarred to find out the actual release date of The Little Mermaid: 1989, was over 20 years ago. Other Disney films are similarly old: Beauty and the Beast premiered in 1991, Aladdin in 1992.

Velez, watching the films a few years later on, would have seen them on VHS tapes—an antiquity amid today’s Blu-Ray disks and online streaming.

“It makes me feel old,” she said, “and I kind of miss those days of just going back to my friend’s house…Not having to worry about doing homework and—filling out essays for college, scholarships. It was just…a simpler time.”

Remembering the ‘90s and early 2000s begs the question: have we grown up, or has time flown?

Morris believes she’s had to grow up quickly.

“When I moved in with my grandparents [after my parents’ divorce],” she said, “I had to take up a lot of responsibility…[I had to be] more mature with my decisions and more unbiased.”

Nguyen-Vo, on the other hand, doesn’t think she’ll ever outgrow dolls.

“I mean, if you give me a Lolita doll I’ll make it pretty,” she said. “If you put a doll in front of me right now, I’ll just turn back into my seven-year-old self and…I’ll just make it pretty and I’ll play with it.”