August 14, 2007
Written by C.N.
The New York Times has an interesting article about the recently concluded Miss New York Chinese Beauty Pageant. The article illustrates on the individual level many of the sociological issues involved in the process of assimilation and community influences on one’s ethnic identity:
As one contestant put it, “The Chinese pageant is the perfect combination of East and West.” . . . Later, as the contestants exchanged beauty advice about the best whitening lotion and eyelid tape, some of the girls cringed at the extent to which their competitors seemed to idealize Caucasian features. . . .
Many of the girls vying for the title seem to lead double lives. Finalists have included investment bankers, accountants and Ivy League students who secretly harbor beauty queen dreams.
While some parents balk at the idea of their daughters putting their professional goals on hold to pursue careers in modeling and acting, others consider their very entry into the Miss New York Chinese pageant to be a crowning achievement — a little piece of the American dream, Mandarin flavored. . . .
“It’s like proof of my own success as a mother,” Ms. Xie said through Shirley Hon, a translator and ever-present chaperone. Her eyes brimming with tears, Ms. Xie added, in English: “I only have one daughter. I want to take her good life.”
As a parent myself, I certainly understand that parents — Asian American and otherwise — obviously should feel proud of their children and their accomplishments. However, I had to cringe when I read Ms. Xie’s statement of her daughter’s participation in the pageant: “It’s like proof of my own success as a mother.”
I’ve written before about how parental expectations and pressures on their children to “succeed” can go too far and lead to depression, social withdrawal, and in extreme cases, violence and suicide. As many Asian Americans, young and old, can attest to, this parental pressure is very real and can be very stressful.
In this case, I’m not saying that any of the beauty pageant contestants were pressured into participating by their parents, but I am a little uneasy about what their parents/mothers will think of them if they are among those who did not win the title or any of the other awards — will their mothers think that this result also reflects on them?
Ultimately, I think that ideally that assimilation should be a two-way process, between both the individual as s/he incorporates elements of mainstream society, and the mainstream society itself, as it incorporates cultural elements from the individuals themselves.
But it should also be a two-way process between parents and their children — the children get a better understanding of their parents experiences and how they’ve influenced their parenting styles, and by the parents themselves who hopefully come to understand that their success as a parent does not entirely depend on the “success” or “failures” of their children.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Chinese American Beauty Pageant" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/08/chinese-american-beauty-pageant/> ().
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