Yes We Can.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


above: Nancy Kwan via Wikipedia


above: Ronald Takaki via booktv.org

Professor Ronald Takaki, professor Emeritus of Ethnic Studies at University of California, Berkeley, where I attended college, passed away recently. This made me sad, of course, not only because I had a class in Asian American studies with Professor Takaki, who is a pioneer in the field, but also because it made me think about how far we have come in perceptions about race or ethnicity in fashion.

One of my only one-on-one interactions with Professor Takaki was when I approached him during office hours to ask about racial barriers in academia. Why was it, I wanted to know, that it was easier, even in my own mind, to accept a white professor of Shakespeare studies, but there were no professors of Asian descent in the department, let alone many women working in the field at the time? As an English literature major, I had been turning over this question in my mind, and wondering where my own future, as the daughter of Korean immigrants studying Shakespeare could possibly head.

Professor Takaki turned to me and instead of brushing aside such a silly, rhetorical question, said "Of course it's possible for an Asian-American to excel in Shakespeare studies. I am a student of Shakespeare myself and did an in-depth study of one of his plays in an introduction to one of my books." At the time, his answer to my rather naive question about race relations was unsatisfactory, but I filed it away in the back of my mind, and it now resonates with me whenever I think about how far we can come as a nation, as a global community, when it comes to perceptions about race or ethnicity.

We owe so much to the pioneers in this field, the ones who broke down the initial barriers. In cinema: Nancy Kwan and Bruce Lee. In Asian-American studies: Ronald Takaki. For fashion, designers such as Vera Wang and Anna Sui, and the new generation of designers, such as Doo Ri, Jason Wu and Thakoon, for bringing what was once an industry built on immigrant labor (via the backrooms of Seventh Avenue) to the forefront of creative excellence. Creative bloggers such as Susie Bubble and top models like Du Juan and Daul Kim have been changing standards of beauty.

I am so proud of how far we have come; and the day will come when this fact will sail by unacknowledged, in the background, when our children will turn to us and say "Oh it was different back in the day?" But until that day comes, allow me this one post of indulgence to say: "Yes we can. And yes we are!" I don't write about race relations and it's not something I think about on a regular basis, but it's just something that came up this week and wanted to share with you.

Thank you for reading...


above: Susie Bubble via Style Bubble



above: Doo Ri via WWD


above: Jason Wu via WWD


above: Daul Kim

22 comments:

SsstSonia said...

I'm sorry for your lost...but this is life, and we must go on
XoXo

Indie.Tea said...

Your post made me think of Anna May Wong, who never got the parts nor the credit her talent and beauty merited her...

The Haute-Shopper said...

A very interesting post and I agree with all of it. I do think Asian-Americans still have a long way to go.. I really miss seeing more Asian models (is it a height issue?) or actresses on TV other than the occasional token one they'll put in as part of a medical/law/police/you-name-it-theme. I always thought the U.S. would be the first to propel these talents to stardeom considering the large amount of Asian-Americans in the country.

It's a bit odd in other countries. Parisians have a very soft spot for Japanese (which is why they've literally adopted CdG, Yohij, Kenzo and Issey as their own). London is pretty evolved in that respect as well, but in many places it's still a bit of a battle, even though there's a large Asian community (Italy would be an example, where Chinese labor is basically still hidden in factories and sweatshops).

Lily G. said...

Sorry about your teacher, but he seemed like a very smart man. Thankfully, at least you have good memories of him. Cute outfit in the image!

A little Princess said...

Thank you for your lovely comment, your blog is so very pretty! It really sounds as though he was such an amazing person, and I'm sure your thoughts would mean the world to him. Have a fab week, wait, it's wednesday, time flies! xoxo

emma said...

this is a great post

clandestinechic said...

Wonderfully written post. I'm sorry about the loss of your Professor. It is good that you did have a Professor that you could talk to about those concerns. I know as an English/Lit. major and minority student, it can be difficult to reconcile these characters and authors against your own background sometimes. Hopefully, we can all evolve as a diverse community and be brought closer together to celebrate our differences.

Elizabeth Marie said...

Oh wow, what a special tribute to your Professor. I have a soft spot in my heart for some former teachers as well, and I know how much impact they can have on your life. I'm so sorry for your loss!

I don't think Asian Americans get enough play at all! It's so odd, because I find models of asian decent just absolutely striking.

xo

Dream Sequins said...

Thanks so much for your wonderful comments. It's not as if I feel a sense of personal loss per se, but it was nice to have crossed paths with someone who had such an impact on history like that. And it's nice to know how far we have come...

SsstSonia: Thanks for your lovely comment.

Indie.Tea: Definitely Anna May Wong. I left out a biggie. Thanks for pointing that out.

Haute-Shopper: It's interesting to get your perspective on relations overseas, as I have only encountered it on a passing basis on my travels there. I always knew that it would be easier for me to live in a multi-cultural city like New York or Paris, not just because I enjoy the stimulus of a large city, but because it would just be easier for me to feel at ease with the melting pot feel of the place..

Lily G: Thank you for your kind words!

A little Princess: Thank you very much for your comment. Yes it's hump day already!

emma: Thank you so much!

clandestinechic: You have such wonderful points.Thank you for writing this: "Hopefully, we can all evolve as a diverse community and be brought closer together to celebrate our differences."

Liz: I like to think that Asians have a wide variety of looks to offer in fashion, as well. Not just one particular look... We'll see if we head in that direction! THanks for your lovely comment :)

thefatandskinnyonfashion said...

I feel the same way about my culture. As an African American, it is so hard to overcome stereotypes. Hopefully one day all cultures will be accepted and free from stereotyping.

mary jane said...

great post~
i've had some amazing teachers who's words have stuck with as well. my husband is Native American and wishes there was more of a representation of his culture today as well. but things are shifting in this country, hopefully for the better... we'll see!
xo
mary jane

i.d. said...

Great post - very thoughtful. I think progress is being made but it's an ongoing battle and one that our generation isn't as aware of as it should be. x

Denise @ Swelle said...

What a lovely tribute, your professor would be proud.

To add just a few names from Canadian fashion: Joeffer Caoc, Thien Le, Andy The Anh.

Living in England is such a culture shock from my home in Toronto where the city was a wonderful mix of people, and here we have the BNP putting flyers through our door that states their position that immigrants should be kicked out. Which is why we are voting tomorrow. We all need to do our part, however we can, to support each other.

Helen Cox said...

A very touching post. I am sorry to hear of your loss but I do think what it has made you think about is beautiful. Shakespeare, literature, drama, it transcends race, it's about your interpretations and your ideas and I am sure you will have a lot to bring forward.

Hanako66 said...

what a lovely post and tribute

DM_C said...

I just read about Professor Takaki a couple of days ago in the NY Times. I saved the article to show my husband, as we had not heard of him previously. An important person for us, also. Our own family is multi-ethnic: African, Arab, and now an Asian girlfriend added to the mix! Our country is evolving, will evolve, but it sure takes time.

SOS! said...

the examples you've mentioned are amazing inspirations..
xx-LJ from SOS!

Dream Sequins said...

You guys are amazing. Thank you for your responses! I really feel like the internet, blogs, social media are bringing us closer to openness and acceptance. *hugs*

thefatandskinnyonfashion: Hopefully one day all cultures will be accepted and free from stereotyping. YES

mary jane: Thanks for your comment. It's true that Native American cultures are underrepresented or characterized in stereotypical ways as well. Great point!

i.d.: "I think progress is being made but it's an ongoing battle and one that our generation isn't as aware of as it should be." So true so true!

Denise: Joeffer Caoc, Thien Le, Andy The Anh. These are names that I stumbled across while researching the amazing talent out of Canada. Of course!

Helen: Thank you for sharing this: "Shakespeare, literature, drama, it transcends race, it's about your interpretations and your ideas."

Hanako66: Thank you so much for this!

DM_C: "Our own family is multi-ethnic: African, Arab, and now an Asian girlfriend added to the mix! Our country is evolving, will evolve, but it sure takes time." Love this mix. Thanks for sharing!

LJ: Thanks love :D

CR said...

I totally agree with you. It makes me quite happy as a hispanic-american to see Isabel Toledo so talked about these days. But I think we ought to push to see the diversity also reflected on the runway not just with the design of the clothes, but with the models themselves as a way to push the barriers of conventional beauty.

Dream Sequins said...

CR: Thank you for this: "I think we ought to push to see the diversity also reflected on the runway not just with the design of the clothes, but with the models themselves as a way to push the barriers of conventional beauty." I love Isabel Toledo. And strangely enough, a lot of these diverse designers are being worn by the fashion forward First Lady, too. Yes we can indeed!

stylewithbenefits said...

Great post.. couldn't have said it better myself if I tried. :) And I love Daul. Thanks for writing about this important topic!

xo, Becs

Dream Sequins said...

Becs: Thanks for your support. x

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