A Feeling of Belonging: Asian American Women's Public Culture, 1930-1960

By Shirley Jennifer Lim | Go to book overview

1
“A Feeling of Belonging”
Chi Alpha Delta, 1928–1941

Spring 1941. The sun sparkles and the flowers glow against the terracotta-colored brick buildings at the University of California, Los Angeles. Imagine, if you will, that you are a new member of the sorority Chi Alpha Delta. You have just been initiated into membership with your eager pledge class and have just discovered that your sorority has the campus's highest grade point average.1 For your first Spring Formal dance, your sorors suggest smooth dates, rejecting all drips, and propose a shopping trip to pick out snazzy shoes in which to groove the night away. You have just been reprimanded for whispering too loudly in College Library, debating which beautician could best help you achieve Judy Garland-esque permanent waves. But next year you will not be on campus. You are not just any young co-ed at UCLA. You are Japanese American. During spring 1942, instead of hurrying across Royce Quad, exchanging greetings with classmates, you will be stripped of all of your legal rights as an American citizen and summarily incarcerated as a “prisoner without trial” for three years in an internment camp.2

Predominantly second-generation Japanese Americans, members of Chi Alpha Delta spoke English at home and with each other, permanentwaved their hair, wore poodle skirts with saddle shoes, and nicknamed themselves the “Chis.” Like women in European American sororities, they staged barnyard frolics, ski weekends, and beach outings and, at their banquets, savored fried chicken, green beans, and three-layer cake. Yet, to set the mood for their annual outdoor Faculty Tea, the women of Chi Alpha Delta dressed in kimonos and arranged their hair in “Japanese” styles. For public performances, they displayed Japanese ethnic pride and/or “exoticism,” but in their everyday lives they would be as American as their flared skirts and pearl-buttoned sweaters.

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