As a young teenager in the nineteen seventies, I loved Phoebe Cates because she, of all the magazine fashion models, bore the closest resemblance to ME. It turns out that Phoebe’s ethnicity is half Jewish and a quarter Chinese/Filipina; however, being any kind of Asian was something that I could relate to more than I could to all of those blue-eyed blondes that were ubiquitous in Seventeen Mag way back when.
I so desired female role models when I was a kid, but found very few. June Angela, a member of PBS’s The Electric Company’s “Short Circus,” was another older girl up to whom I looked. She looked Hawaiian or some sort of Asian-hybrid and I thought that she was the prettiest girl in the world and wanted to BE her. Boy, did I love the way she shook that tambourine and sang, “Jelly Belly!”
Since I’ve grown up, more non-white products (e.g., ethnic dolls like Kira, Barbie’s swarthy friend), models, and entertainment stars have emerged into the public eye. Now, it’s hard to find a clothing catalog that doesn’t feature mixed race people; we seem to be the “in” thing, at least aesthetically.
Are Asian-American people, or hapas, better represented now? Or, are we still sorely underrepresented in a mostly white society? I admit that my world-view might be biased, as I live in Oakland – the place where you can’t shake a stick without smacking some coffee-colored kid in the grocery store.