Monday, February 20, 2006

Beauty & Power

On the Shoes (because you know you need to know):

If it takes you more than one guess to figure out whose shoes these are, I am ashamed of you! Ashamed!

On the Writers:

All I can say is if you can avoid having to read right after Noel Alumit, you should do so. Because by comparison, you are—to put it kindly—nothing but a 25-watt lightbulb. And if you know anything about lightbulbs, 25-watts ain't much.

Upon being introduced, Noel popped out of his chair (where he had been sitting in a deceivingly demure manner) and proceeded to launch into a hysterical riff on the importance of the Miss Universe pageant to his life and, indeed, the life of every gay man on the planet. Then came an equally funny discussion about The Importance Of The Final Question and how Miss Philippines blew her chance at the crown in 1994 (was it 1994?) when, in response to the question, "If you could be any fictional character, who would you be?" she answered..."Supergirl." Lordy.

But that wasn't all. No, that wasn't all. He ended by staging his own beauty pageant using two audience volunteers. There were crowns bestowed, much cheering and hooting from the audience, and a triumphant final walk by the winner (while the runner-up declared he wanted a "dance off!" to redeem himself). Noel took a bow to much applause.

And then it was my turn.



Next, Ms. Barbara Jane "I-Am-a-ROCKSTAR-and-all-my-books-yes-I-said-ALL-my-books-including-not-just-my-new-award-winning-volume-but-my-first-book-too-completely-sold-out-that's-right-bow-down" Reyes read her stunning poetry, including new work from Diwata. Such a pleasure to hear. And you better bet I purchased my red-hot copy of Poeta en San Francisco. This from the Eastwind Books team, who displayed a veritable bounty of Filipino and FilAm literature. BJ has the proof right here.

Jean was next with a memoir of sorts, in which she recalled the process of writing a piece on the "social box" phenomenon that was a staple of dances in Filipino-American communities through the 1960s. I was rapt, as I'd never heard of this ritual in which young Filipinas were displayed and then presented to the highest bidder for a turn on the dancefloor. The girls kept half of their bid price, while the other half went to the organization sponsoring the dance. Isn't your head spinning already, what with all the implications of such a practice? Well, join the Nesting Ground Club, because my head pretty much remained in the same reeling state throughout the rest of the day.

On the Academics:

(with advance apologies for oversimplification and outright butchering of ideas)

For a non-academic such as yours ever so truly, I needed to perform a certain amount of decoding before I could begin to really hear what each of the presenters (the exception being Madame Dawn Mabalon, whose style is easily accessible to the layperson) was saying. They were, by the way, all brilliant—and, yes, beautiful—Filipinas, plus Roland Tolentino, a Visiting Fellow from the Sociology Department of the National University of Singapore.

I took dismal notes (words like "hegemony," "discourse," etc. do not flow easily from my pen!), so I will rely on memory and just shout out a few of the many things that have stayed with me:

• Dawn Mabalon's admission that her family undertook an unprecedented campaign of "graft and corruption" to win her the title of Miss Antipolo Something-Something at the tender age of nine. OMG, her pictures were priceless.

• Dawn's descriptions of the ways in which some Filipinas chose to resist the considerable familial pressure to take part in these ubiquitous contests.

Shirley Lim discussing how the women who participated served as symbols of "ideal female citizenship" and how the Filipino community's ability to organize and then—through its periodicals—issue sassy gossip reports (okay, she didn't actually say "sassy reports") about such pageants/social occasions was in a sense proof that it was ready to participate in "modern culture."

• Evelyn Rodriguez ticking off the basic criticisms thrown at the notion of current-day Filipina-American debutantes and their $12,000 (average price in Evelyn's study) parties, one of which is the thought that middle-class families should not be spending such a sum on what could arguably be called a frivolous one-night-only event. But, Evelyn pointed out (among other things), nobody tells wealthy people what to do with their money; why should it be different for the middle-class? This is a thought (I'm slightly embarrassed to admit) that had never crossed my mind. So there you go.

Liz Pasares articulating the idea that racial discourse is pretty much non-existent for FilAms. We are, after all, chronically miscrecognized (who among us—tell me!—has not been forced to endure a prolonged inquisition from some idiot who cannot stop with the "Are you (fill in the blank)? No? Well, are you (fill in the blank)? Um, how 'bout (fill in the blank)?") and—I hate this—invisible.

• Liz's discussion of how FilAm movie directors cast their female leads.

• I think this was also Liz? Say it with me: Filipinos are ethnic chameleons.

Roland Tolentino on "Imeldific Beauty." There's no way around the fact that Imelda, beyond being evil, is just so damn fascinating. At the end of his presentation, Roland played an interview with one of her coutouriers, who nonchalantly announced that many of the women who worked for him creating unbelievably intricate beadwork for Imelda's elaborate gowns eventually went blind. This was interspersed with an interview of Imelda espousing her very special thoughts on the importance of beauty. Which is, apparently, even more crucial to life than...eyesight.

On the Organizers & Their Merry Band of Volunteers:

Really, I cannot say enough about the fabulousness of Gladys and Joanne. They worked so hard taking care of everyone and keeping everything running smoothly, all while maintaining their sense of humor and looking lovely. The day was just as Jean described it: filled with warmth (despite the temperature!) and laughter. All due, of course, to the organizers and their extremely smart, fun, and energetic support team (hi Fritzie! hi volunteer who employed telekinesis to make one l'il puto topple from the pyramid!).

And now for pictures of something other than shoes...

Gladys welcoming attendees:

BJ wowing the audience:

Jean taking us inside the "social box":

BJ & La Fritzie:

With La Fritzie:

With Noel Alumit:

Noel & Shirley J. Lim

Wonderful conference volunteers including La Fritzie & Ms. Telekinetic:

The right side of the room, during the break:

The left side of the room, during the break:

BJ has more photos for your viewing pleasure right here.

And now...I should probably go find my children.


Gura said...

Fab shoes, Ms. Ver! and a wonderful synopsis of the day! Wish I could have made it! I have a copy of the documentary, "Imelda" and damn if I can't help but watch it over and over.

ver said...

We missed you, gura!


barbara jane said...

ah ms. ver, thanks for this. as ever, it was awesome to have some diva time with you.

and sh*t, my answer to miss philippines's final question: i'd be maria clara.



bino said...

beautiful pictures ver!!! thanks for sharing them with us. looks like you had fun fun fun time.

ah, miss u!

it was 1999--miss universe--when ms. philippines, already in top five, was asked the FINAL question and blew it. this: should miss universe be de-crowned if she gets pregnant during her term? miss catholic of course couldn't answer the question--er, get pregnant? er, we don't do that stuff. she ended up first runner up to miss african country who said--well, motherhood,femininity,womanhood, blah blah blah. big words, and the crown.

and then, of course she showed up at my grand family reunion. blogged about it once:

so noel is right about the extent of gay memory when it comes to beauty contests. :-)

hee haa hoo hooo... great job ver.

Gladys said...

ahahahaha! i loved reading this! it made me happy to relive the event, and to hear about the things i missed. except, of course, you said nothing about how spellbound the audience was during your short story. but i understand; it's the filipina modesty talking, um, not-talking.

btw, who was ms. telekinesis, the one with the crown (diana) or the other one without (not fritzie, but trisha)?

now i'ma steal the photos...

fuxtmd (love those shoes!)

bino said...

gladys, your HAIRdo is the one to steal.

you west coasters--always having fun!

really enjoyed reading your account of the event, ver! i have to come back and say that after eating an ensaymada.

ver said...

Wish you were there, too, Bino! Much craziness would have ensued. I LOVE that post about your que bonita cousin. At least she the word "Supergirl" never crossed her gorgeous lips! Imagine having to be forever introduced as your "Miss (not quite) Universe Cousin" or "Miss (not quite) Universe VP of Finance" or "Miss (not quite) Universe Grade 3 Teacher." Ay, yay, yay.

I was so remiss in not mentioning Gladys' crowning glory. I did tell her when we were there, though.

Gladys, Miss Telekinesis was Diana. And thanks for naming Trisha; I never caught her name. They were really great...

xmvoali (your shoes were cute, too!)

Gladys said...

thank you, bino and ver, for the honor of the miss conair title. now i would like to thank my ceramic curling iron, for not burning me while i did my hair; my bumble&bumble hair products, for gluing my hair in place all day; and to my stylist daphne, who gave me fringe bangs so that i wouldn't look like an old lady. ahahahahaha!

i told diana, trisha, and la fritzie to come see this post and asked them to write an article about the event for one of the sponsors' newsletters. they all said they had a fantastic time. and by your photos, ver, it certainly looks like it!

bino, when you come to the west coast this year, we can have a b-yootie pageant in your honor....

eusgqi (but not as cute as yours, ver!)

Joanne said...

Yes, Ver. I have to agree. Although I'm supposed to be an academic, I do get turned off by words that begin with pre- and post-, and end in -ony, -onic, -ity... One would think that if academics were so smart, they'd use more interesting words... Oh well...

I must say that I agree with Miss Gladys. Although Noel is a tough act to follow, I thought you did a fantastic job... fierce shoes and all:)

vfoid: verbage I can't even find in a dictionary

Fritzie said...

Hi back at you Ver! It was great to meet you at the conference. It was definitely inspiring and amazing to be surrounded by all these Filipino artists and intellectuals. You guys are so much fun to be with!

I'm going to steal your pics!

P.S. Your kids are sooo adorable! You have to let me know when you publish the story that you read, I definitely want a copy!

take care,
La Fritzie --> I think I like this name, haha.

ver said...

La Fritz! So happy to see you here; steal all the pix you want...

Anonymous said...

Well its a good thing I was so telekinetic, b/c I was so tongue tied and in awe of everyone at the conference!

It was one of the most enriching experiences I've had in a long time.

Great pictures!

-Ms. Telekinetic aka Diana.

(I'm nosy, so I found your site through Glady's)

ver said...

It was so nice to meet you, Diana! I hope you realize that I will not be able to look at a puto pyramid without thinking of your amazing powers...