Tag Archives: Mimi Thi Nguyen

Haute Couture In The ‘Ivory Tower’

By Guest Contributor Dr. Tanisha C. Ford

Southern Methodist professor Willard Spiegelman, from New York Times “Class Acts” spread. Courtesy: New York Times.

A New York Times Magazine spread titled “Class Acts,” featuring six professors styled in designer fashions, recently resurfaced in the social media sphere largely due to the media’s budding interest in fashion in unexpected workplaces. Initially, I was thrilled to see the NYT acknowledge that we professors could be stylish, too. But, as I removed my rose-colored Burberry glasses to examine the slide show again, I saw that there were no professors that looked like me. No professors of color.

I instantly took to my Twitter and Facebook pages to post the “Class Acts” spread for my diverse group of colleagues to weigh in on. Their responses ranged from a sarcastic “… apparently black professors can’t be fashionable” to an admonishing “A truly pathetically pale slide show … shame on you NYTimes.” I felt vindicated that they shared my concerns that faculty of color were not represented. We began comprising our own list of “fierce and fly” faculty of color, including (but certainly not limited to)  Mimi Thi Nguyen, Darlene Clark Hine, Davarian Baldwin, Amrita Chakrabarti Myers, Siobhan Carter-David, Treva Lindsey, and Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar.

But even after our insightful social-media venting session, I was still bothered by the spread. And it wasn’t simply because “we” weren’t included. It was because the spread ignored the battles related to dress and adornment that African Americans have endured, both inside and outside of the academy. A brief look at major moments in Black history reveals how battles over race, class, and adornment have majorly influenced mainstream American fashion trends.

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Magtrabaho Ka!: Manila Luzon, Drag, and the Politics of Self-Orientalization

By Guest Contributor Eric Zhang

“I am the beautiful Asian who’s taller than 5-foot-2,” Manila Luzon (né Karl Westerberg) says in her introduction video. She is one of 13 contestants competing on the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race to win $75,000, a lifetime supply of makeup, a headlining drag tour, and the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar.* She is also one of four Asian American contestants to have been featured on the series – the others include Ongina from Season 1, Jujubee from Season 2, and fellow Season 3 contestant Raja.

While drag performance has historically been tied to working class communities of color – the documentary Paris Is Burning in particular follows the tradition of drag balls in 1980s Harlem, and the significance of drag subculture in the lives of queer African American and Latino men – Asian American queens have not been very well represented in the drag circuit. The prominence of Asian American contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race, thus, caught my eye. As a queer Asian American man who has dabbled in drag (inspired in no small part by Drag Race), I became interested in the ways in which these queens were represented – and chose to represent themselves – on television. While these queens are, of course, not necessarily defined by their race, two of the contestants use a rhetoric of race in their performance: Jujubee and Manila Luzon. Because Manila is competing on the current season, because her drag persona centralizes a racial discourse to a heavier extent than Jujubee’s, and because the racial politics of her performance has actively been challenged on the show itself, I will narrow my focus on her.

Manila Luzon’s persona makes heavy use of a kind of pan-Asian motif: a quick glance through her website reveals images like sushi, chrysanthemums, and Japanese katakana; costuming choices that include a cherry petal dress with an obi, a cheongsam, and a Thai headdress and brass fingernail extensions; and a tongue-in-cheek reference to Chinatown. On the other hand, her drag name explicitly marks her as Filipino – Manila, the capital of the Philippines, and Luzon, the island on which Manila is located. The discrepancy between Manila’s pan-Asian character and her identity as Filipino American, in fact, provides a key source of tension in her performance: is she relying on Orientalist stereotypes and tropes to build her character, or is she using drag to perform her Pinoy pride?

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