Dress, Gender and Cultural Change: Asian American and African American Rites of Passage

Dress, Gender and Cultural Change: Asian American and African American Rites of Passage

Dress, Gender and Cultural Change: Asian American and African American Rites of Passage

Dress, Gender and Cultural Change: Asian American and African American Rites of Passage

Synopsis

While African American dress has long been noted as having a distinctive edge, many people may not know that debutante balls - a relatively recent phenomenon within African American communities - feature young women and men dressed, respectively, in conventional symbols of female purity and male hegemony, and conforming to gender stereotypes that have tended to characterize such events traditionally. Within the Hmong American community, mothers and aunts of teenagers use bangles, lace and traditional handwork techniques to create dazzling displays reflecting the gender and ethnicity of their sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, as they participate in an annual courtship ritual. This book examines these events to show how dress is used to transform gender construction and create positive images of African American and Hmong American youth.Coming-of-age rituals serve as arenas of cultural revision and change. For each of these communities, the choice of dress represents cultural affirmation. This author shows that within the homogenizing context of American society, dress serves as a site for the continual renegotiation of identity - gendered, ethnic and otherwise.

Excerpt

The Hmong New Year is an annual celebration which, in Laos, traditionally fell at the end of the agricultural year. Families gathered to celebrate the harvest and prepare, through ritual actions, for the beginning of the year. Dates of the public New Year celebrations in communities throughout the United States are staggered to allow families to attend many of the festivals. in St Paul, Minnesota, the public New Year takes place over the Thanksgiving weekend in a large civic center and focuses primarily on teenagers and young adults. the New Year in Laos was the time of year when families gathered together to bring young people into contact with potential mates from other villages. As young people had to marry outside of their own clan, this was one of the few times they could meet potential marriage partners. in the American context, courtship is still a primary function of the event. the celebration in St Paul draws Hmong Americans from throughout the United States due to the large population of Hmong in the area which allows for a larger selection of marriageable females. Males from as far away as California come to the New Year in St Paul attempting to become acquainted with potential mates. a teenage girl said that potential mates from out-of-state ask for addresses so ‘they can write to you or get to know you. That is a way to get to know you’ (AL-F–01).

The courtship ritual ball-toss game played at the New Year in Laos is still played in the United States and is one way for young people to get acquainted. the game is played by male and female partners that stand across from each other and exchange turns throwing either a hand-made or tennis ball back . . .

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