Monday, November 30, 2009

Borrowed memories of a time long ago






I recently discovered a couple shops here in Taipei that sell vintage found photos. This topic really deserves a longer blog entry (and hopefully I'll have time to write one soon), but I find it very moving to see people who look like me doing normal things in time periods that I enjoy from a historical and aesthetic standpoint.

It's a rare thing. For example, I only recall Asian Americans being featured three times on as many seasons of "Mad Men": the "Oriental family" in Pete's office when he returned from his honeymoon, the waitress in a tight qipao and the (off-screen) Chinese driver that made Sally giggle. The series is one of my favorite TV shows, but it also reminds me that Asian Americans were marginalized (or worse) during the era it depicts. And, of course, depictions of Asians and Asian Americans in actual vintage US films are also problematic, to say the least.

I often find myself feeling very conflicted about my interest in vintage style. How can I enjoy things from an era when Asian Americans were repressed, socially and legally (as with the Japanese internment camps and the Chinese Exclusion Act), and when many Asian countries suffered sociopolitical violence that traumatized millions of people, including members of my family? But secondhand and vintage items have had an emotional resonance for me since I was very young and, though it's hard to explain, I can't imagine my life without them. This is more than a hobby for me -- it's part of my identity.

Perhaps it is a bit trivial, but when I see photos like these or watch a movie like "Stardust," it feels like a relief, or validation of a sort. I don't have access to a lot of my own family's old photos for various reasons, so these pictures are almost like an emotional surrogate for me. Here is something I can enjoy wholeheartedly and relate to on a more intimate level. I have a lot more of these photos and I am looking forward to sharing them here.


  1. They are lovely pictures. Vintage is very important in my life too, you have a very intersting introspection about it! I think that your enjoyment of a piece of the past is something you should feel good about for lots of reasons and I hope you won't let the mistakes of others tarnish it. The last picture is particularly sweet!Marie @ Lemondrop ViNtAge

  2. Hi Marie,
    I think that's a good way of looking at it... seeing my love of vintage and my interest in these eras as a way to reclaim and preserve the past. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!

  3. THANK YOU so much for sharing these photos and such a thoughtful, heartfelt post. I agree with you on just about every point and every feeling. It's always difficult for me to fall completely in line with my fellow vintage-lovers, especially whenever they express some sort of, "Wouldn't it be nice to live in the 1920's!" or something like that. Living in the past has far different implications for people of color in America--and for me, it would have probably meant being dirt poor, owning a laundry shop, and hella discrimination! Not something to wistfully dream about.

    There's a beautiful interview with Junot Diaz on this subject (except it's more about how he deals with white supremacism and racism in science fiction while LOVING science fiction) that I'll have to dig up at some point and forward to you!!

    xo Jenny

    xo Jenny

  4. Thanks for your comment Jenny! This actually reminded me of two awesome posts I read on Gertie's Blog for Better Sewing on being a feminist and loving vintage style at the same time, which reminded me of the issues I have as an Asian American vintage lover. Looking for vintage stuff in Taipei is fun and a bit less complicated, but at the same time it also reminds me that people were living under martial law and had their civil liberties severely restricted at the time a lot of these things I just find cute were made.

    As a sci-fi geek myself, I'm looking forward to the Junot Diaz interview! I've been thinking about those issues re: some of my favorite fantasy and sci fi novels recently. I also wrote a post on my other blog about how I identify with Spock as a person of multicultural heritage.

    Thanks again for your comment!

  5. Catherine:
    What a touching and gorgeous post! I can identify with your feelings regarding vintage love and the dislocation of personal histories.
    Thank you for writing this and for sharing these beautiful, "borrowed" photographs.
    p.s. I loved Stardust, too!

  6. It's like a shared blogging wavelength! I just wrote about the dearth of Asian Americans in "vintage" imagery, and used Meggy Wang from Fashion for Writers as an example of how we might imagine otherwise: I'm looking forward to seeing more!

  7. Can I actually post about your post at Threadbared, with one of these photos?

  8. slanderous: Of course! I loved your post. It articulated a lot of what I was trying to explain about my feelings regarding vintage fashion and being a minority. I'm honored that you want to mention me on Threadbared. I have my photos on Flickr set so people can't download them, but let me know which ones you want and I'll send them over ASAP. Should I mail them to threadbared dot 75 at gmail dot com?

  9. Yes, just send us one you like best to our gmail! I just want to make a quick post about how well you articulate some of the politics of vintage. ;)

  10. I just sent you a link where you can download the photo. Thanks so much!!!