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