Sunday, February 7, 2010

Halloween 101

When I was in the fourth grade, Halloween was a big deal--all the kids donning cute Halloween costumes would line up and do a go-around through the school building to show their costumes off. Okay it wasn't that big of a deal, but I remember really wanting to dress up in a cool costume. Instead of dressing up as a typical cat or pumpkin, my mom gave me a hand-me-down traditional Chinese dress. I was probably the only girl dressed in a silk, light pink Chinese dress, which looked pretty bland next to the Korean girls wearing the brightly colored hanbok.

Fast forward eight years to my freshman year in college, and I find myself scrummaging through my clothes for another Halloween costume. I was completely unprepared and didn't have any of the college girl Halloween essentials like fishnet stockings, hoe heels, or cat ears. So I resort to being cheap and unoriginal (but for arguments sake, in comparison to other college girls I stood out), and try to make something out of my regular attire--my kimono-looking top from some local fashion store in my hometown, paired with black leggings, some red lipstick, powder, and sandals.

No, I wasn't a "teen Asian dragon lady", but I did remake the "geisha" look.

This prompted some mixed reactions: one of my roommates asking me "Oh...are you Asian?" and looks of confusion and being straight up weirded out in silence. I think I didn't fully understand the off reactions I was getting for my geisha costume. My top was from a regular clothing store that could have easily been Forever why the looks of confusion and embarrassment?

Even though it was Halloween, a day you take on a new identity, my already being Asian somehow negated the notion of costume and instead became something else--a terrible, poorly received costume. So how was this different from when I was wearing my mom's dress in the fourth grade?

While I understood that the kimono was a traditional Japanese garment, I didn't fully understand how it represented a Japanese national identity and could be perceived in the wrong way by how it is worn. Similar to the different styles of the Korean hanbok, the Japanese kimono is also "deeply embedded in asserting and contesting" Japanese identity. And while I still don't know what was the right thing to do, I feel that my being Chinese would make donning a kimono-like shirt wrong.

Because most people group Asians as one, most people didn't even think about my costume as Japanese dress. If I had taken an ASA class in my freshman year, I probably wouldn't have gone for the Westernized "Geisha" look (which most people simply mistook as "Asian") on Halloween. I think what I didn't know and understand were the meanings behind the traditional kimono for Japanese people today versus the sexualized, Western perception of geishas, kimonos and "Asian" dress. The last thing I'd want to do is to reinforce the Western and sexualized notions of kimonos or offend someone of Japanese descent.

Compact Challenge: I still haven't gone shopping! And I even took a trip to Sacramento this weekend and didn't stop by Arden Fair. While I have been doing non-shopping online browsing for potential purchases, I make sure to keep the credit cards far away.

Amethyst Wang
Blog Post #6

Rebecca N. Ruhlen, "Korean Alterations: Nationalism, Social Conscious , and 'Traditional' Clothing".
Angry Asian Man

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