SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2003        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Ana Trejo

Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

   Remember the old saying, “beauty is only skin deep”?  According to bell hooks, beauty is a manifestation of an ancient and a postmodern white world that sets the standards for beauty.  So actually beauty is not only skin deep, but is dependent on what color it is, the shape of the features and the size of the person who is in that skin. In “Selling Hot Pussy”, hooks discusses black models. “Non-white models appearing in catalogues must resemble as closely as possible their white counterparts so as not to detract from the closely racialized subtext.”   I am not trying to sell hot pussy, but I sure would like to think the way I look, my physical characteristics, are somewhat appealing to the masses.  I am relieved to say that, in my day, I could turn a few heads.  This was and is an important statement when it comes to the construction of my self-esteem.  Unfortunately there are still people in this world that either knowingly or unknowingly use their biased ideas of beauty to destroy my self-esteem.

       My oldest and closest friend’s name is Linda.  About 18 years ago, she and her then husband who had been married for a couple of years, decided to remarry in the Catholic Church.  My then husband and I were to be the maid of honor and best man.  They chose to make it a big affair with traditional formal wedding attire and many people being invited.  Linda was so very excited that a couple who she called and considered her parents were coming from Las Vegas.  This couple had been there for her during a very hard adolescence, had taken her in and had been her surrogate parents.  She loved and respected them more than her biological parents.  Some of her excitement was that after many years of friendship with her, I was going to finally be able to meet the two people whom she respected the most. 

During that time of my life I was married to a man who suffered from a raging case of BI-polar disorder. He did the typical thing that bipolar men do; they isolate you from everyone in order to keep you in check.  Linda was the type of person/personality who did not seem to be able to keep close friends and in my ex-husband’s eyes did not seem to be too bright, so she was the one and only safe person he allowed me to be friends with.  Because of our circumstances, we did everything together and were very close. 
The day before the Wedding Linda’s surrogate parents (for the past 20 years I have referred to them as Linda’s imaginary parents) arrived.  They were actually a very young couple, who would be more our contemporaries rather than people our parents’ age.  The wedding came with all the fixings.  Linda had me dress like a vision right out of Tara from Gone with the Wind, in a big white dress (yes, white, don’t ask me why) complete with flowing skirt and humongous hoop.  Even so, many people told me that I looked much more stunning than the bride who looks the exact opposite of me. I am a short biracial, Mexican /Filipino mix and at that time only weighed about 105 pounds while Linda is a tall Anglo Saxon sandy blonde woman, who at that time was very slim.  Everything went well, Linda’s imaginary parents seemed to be very nice and we all had a great time.

Up to that time race never seemed to be a concern to Linda and me.  In fact Linda was always excited to be a part of my annual tamale making days and enjoyed being a part of my other traditions and visa versa.  About a week after the big event Linda came over to my house very excited to tell me what her imaginary parents thought of me.  She said, and I quote because I have a difficult time forgetting it, “Mom and Dad just thought you are the most beautiful woman.  They can’t believe how pretty your face is, they said you know how Chinese people have their faces all flat and pushed in, but your face isn’t.”  I was stunned, not just by the stupidity of her imaginary family, but by Linda’s stupidity in thinking that she was actually giving me a compliment.  She was so happy and excited all the while smiling as she is telling me that her parents think I am beautiful in spite of being one of those ugly Chinese people.  I had to bring Linda to reality, so I asked her if Jim and Vicky (their real names) did not normally find Oriental people attractive and do they, in fact, actually not like Oriental people.  She admitted to me, but unashamedly, that because they are originally from Oregon and there are so many Chinese people there (she continually used the term Chinese because she didn’t seem to realize that not all people who look Asian are Chinese) that Jim and Vicky do not like them.  She went as far to say that she had been with Jim in public places, such as the grocery store, where they would be standing behind a person of Asian decent, when Jim would mimic behind them and say, “ching chong, ching chong.”  My response to her was, “But Linda my Dad is from the Philippine Islands, Jim would not like my Dad because of the way he looks, if my Dad were in a store Jim would be making fun of my father!”  I finally saw a glimmer of understanding, but she just said, “Well, that’s Jim.” And then changed the subject.

My favorite piece of literature by bell hooks is not one of her poignant mind stretching essays.  The piece of literature that means much to my idea of self-esteem and self-actualization is taken from her three children’s books.  I have an anti-bias book collection that I use to teach Head Start teachers how to analyze children’s books for bias.  bell hooks’ book Happy to Nappy! usually causes the biggest uproar because it celebrates the one trait that has plagued Black individuals. I had many Black peers critique the book and even after reading hooks’ uplifting descriptions of nappy hair, many still felt that they wanted to have and wanted their children to have “good” hair.  As in her grown up literature, bell hooks’ children’s literature is about looks, features, self-esteem and how our world perceives these things.  Our critical white world has set up the perameters for what perfect features are and through her books, bell hooks tries to break through these perimeters to teach young children that the features we were born with are to be “celebrated.”

   What does this have to do with the incident with my friend?  Everything.  I lived in a south Phoenix neighborhood that was predominately Hispanic.  I was a minority within a minority world.  I was often made fun of because I looked more Oriental than Hispanic. Those features that were part of my Filipino heritage were considered unacceptable. I never quite felt as if I fit in and wanted to eliminate many of my Oriental features.  I was embarrassed to be seen with my father because he looked so very Filipino.  I didn’t have someone like bell hooks writing books for me that told me I was beautiful so I didn’t “celebrate” my God given features.  

I don’t have nappy hair. I have oriental hair.  This was often pointed out when I went to a beauty parlor.  Although many white and Hispanic folks have hair as straight as mine, my hair was always termed as “Asian or Oriental” hair and I often wondered if non-Asian people with straight hair were told it was of the Oriental or Asian kind. 

   For a very long time I did not “celebrate” the way I looked.  It took much soul searching and self-esteem building to get to a point where I could see myself as beautiful, for me to embrace my heritage and culture and to “celebrate” my father as a Filipino man.  I had finally reached that point of celebration when my friend Linda walked in that day and took me right back to my childhood.  It did not make me feel ashamed of my features or of my father.  It made me angry that there was still such prejudice and ignorance in this world and that those white perimeters could still close in on me.  But worse was that it was coming to me through someone I loved. This is why it will be imprinted in my rememory cells forever.

   After 20 years of knowing Linda I have come to understand that she is colorblind when it comes to me.  I have heard her stereotypical remarks about the tight Jews, smelly Black people and those Mexicans who will rape white women.  She is a bigot, one of the biggest I have known, but she does not see me as one of “them”.  She makes these remarks forgetting that I am indeed one of “them.”  I always try to draw her back to reality, by questioning what she has just said, but she doesn’t ever seem to get it.  Usually I see that glimmer of understanding for a few seconds before it disappears.  It is hard to believe that this person does indeed have other good qualities, and it is these qualities that has kept us friends to this day.  But I do have to admit that we are not as close as we once were. After divorcing my Bi-polar husband and becoming more educated it is more difficult for me to tolerate people who have no tolerance for certain other people, so I do not spend as much time with her anymore.

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