Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Identity on the Catwalk, Part 1
A couple of weeks ago, I got to participate in a fashion show that served as one of the fundraisers for the annual Nisei Week in Little Tokyo. I was happy to be one of the volunteer models, anticipating the automatic sense of community I feel whenever I attend a Japanese American event.
I knew I would be one of the older volunteer models, wearing the casual and sporty Georg Roth shirts, and serving as a live mannequin for the Asiatic Citron designs. But I was still relieved when I arrived at the Biltmore Hotel and saw that I was not the oldest model.
I am not the tallest or handsomest guy, even as a volunteer in a community event. But I am a bit of an Attention Whore, still, and I know how to ham it up. I know how to fake confidence, if needed.
When the male models lined up backstage to go on for the actual show, any slight nervousness or insecurity faded away as soon as I heard the plucky opening notes to Duffy's "Mercy." It was the perfect struttin' music.
"Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!" Duffy's vocals came clear and confident through the speakers as I focused on taking strong, measured steps. This wasn't a paid gig, so what did I have to lose? I put one foot right in front of the other, a la Bob Fosse, all the while adding just the right amount of sassiness to my walk - not too much.
And the women were screaming. They started screaming from the audience as soon as the first male model appeared on the catwalk. Without looking directly into the spotlight, or at anyone in particular I remembered to play to both sides of the house, as well as to the center, just as I had been taught in my early years of dinner theater.
I paused at the end of the runway to pull the corners of my collar up while shrugging my shoulders in a forward roll (hammy). I stole a few more seconds of stage time and lowered my sunglasses just enough to peer above the lenses at the audience before making my sassy way back upstage (hammier).
And it wasn't about me. I was relaxed because it was about the men's shirts as well as the women's fashions. It was more about the contestants for the Miss Nisei Week pageant, who performed their own dance number to Michael Jackson music.
And of course, it was about the Nisei, which literally means "second generation" and refers to the Asian Americans that were born to immigrant parents.
I'm proud to be my own small version of nisei, having been born in California after my father brought his Japanese bride from overseas. It is a privilege to be one of the many faces in this specific and many-faceted community. I feel lucky to be able to actively participate in life this way, even if just for a brief afternoon of fantasy role playing.