Deeper than skin
By Michael Sitzman
Brandeis Hoot, Sunday March 20, 2005
I knew this would be a tough assignment. What do I know about fashion? What would it have to do
with the show’s stated purpose of countering stereotypes about Asian-Pacific Americans? With
these doubts I sat down to SKIN/InspirAsian last Saturday in the Levin Ballroom. It didn’t matter
that the audience was small. They connected.
In the lobby, paintings by Sam Tan depicted east-Asian mountain motifs against brightly colored
backgrounds. It was an appealing visual mixture of old and new, a theme that would carry
throughout the show.
The first exhibition, by designer Shin Choi, followed on the heels of a slide-show preview.
Outfits had a silky sheen with a distinctly Western style. Students appeared, paraded down a
runway, paused, posed, — and radiated. At this point the rising emotion could be felt as friends
“Yeah, Wendy! We love you!”
Manisha Shahane, a talented vocalist and keyboardist, followed with a concert in English and the
Indian language Marathi, delivering a veiled rebuttal to ethnic preconceptions in her lyrics:
“You don’t know what I’m feeling…” Later she sang, “every day I am getting closer to where the
ocean greets the sky,” seemingly a reference to perennial hopes and dreams.
The next fashion display was by ourtneycourtney, featuring solid-color outfits punctuated by
patches with words and logos. Again, cheers:
“Yeah, Monica! You go, girl!”
I got the point with the next presentation, a song-set by Vudoo Soul, who spoke of break-ups: “I
can’t set you free from my mind…not yet.” It seemed a fittingly poignant lamentation for anyone
who has left behind a country and way of life. Then he sang a number that hit home: “Who do I
look like to you? I’m an Asian and well-to-do?” Now we were together in that rare land where the
Jew like me is no stranger.
“All I see is a fictional place that’s deeper than you, deeper than me,” rang his lyrics. That’s
it! I understood the show. Just as we must look deeper to understand each other, so it was for
the show itself. If the performances appeared disconnected, they served to reflect each of us,
distinct as individuals, yet in aggregate a beautiful tapestry; an affirmation of Asian-Pacific
Americans, and indeed all cultures.
Designers Baby Phat and Twinkle followed, and then Vinh Hua’s poetry offerings presented scathing
condemnations of stereotypes. When he spoke of the overachieving “model minority” myth, my own
story was being told once more. Yet, in answer to the stigma of success, he reflected: “If she
succeeds…that will give us all a little bit of hope.” And on that upbeat note, designer Colleen
Quen wrapped up the show with the night’s most elegant dresses as the models assembled in a
My words fail me in trying to describe the fashions, but no words would have done them justice.
Try instead to imagine the pride and dignity on the faces of those who wore them. Imagine a
people moving ever closer to where the ocean greets the sky, a place that is deeper than you or
me. That should indeed give us all a little bit of hope.
This event was co-sponsored by Brandeis Pluralism Alliance and Student Events for Asian-Pacific
American Heritage Month.