Chameleon Girl

Hilda Hei Nam Leung '05, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2005

[With apologies to Tom Wolfe]

Angelica Labess is fifty percent Filipino and fifty percent Japanese, with an American passport. Her rich, beautiful parents studied in the States back in the seventies, when only people from affluent families could send their beloved children to America. Angelica is not a Filipino name, nor is it Japanese. What the hell does Angelica mean anyway?

"Well I have such a unique name because — it's kind of embarrassing though. (no, tell us, tell us!) Well okay, my parents went to LA for honeymoon . . . so they wanted to name me after the trip. But Angelos is not pretty enough, so they changed it a little and called me Angelica." It must have been the 200th time she explains the etymology of her name to strangers interested in her life, but each time she does it with the same affected embarrassment and shyness.

She dyed her dull, black hair into platinum blond with bronze streaks, a hair color that no Asians naturally possess, maybe except very special albinos. That kind of makes her stand out when she is in a big mix of Asians. But not when she is next to other Japanese girls. For Japanese girls who grew up watching cartoon figures with red, purple and blue hair, dying your hair into different colors is as given as having a peanut-size cell phone. So, she is not that different from other cute Asians girls after all. No way! That is not good! She doesn't want to be like everyone else!

She was at a Latin-American-themed house party on campus. She is a marvelous dancer and identifies a lot with getting drunk on the Latin American themed house party's alcohol, so of course she had to be there. She wore a nice little dress that accentuates her fragile frame and thought that it would swirl around her fluidly as she twists and turns. After a lot of dances, she finally eased her way to the bar for a drink. She smiled at the bartender, knowing that an innocent smile from an Asian girl might bring her a bigger pour.

"Could I have a shot of tequila, please? Oh man, I love that stuff!" "I'm sorry miss," answered the Hispanic barman who was apparently sick of watching people identify with — really identify with — the real Latino way of life, people who saw Latinos as some exotic cultural animals. "You were already here too many times. Each guest only gets three drinks for free."

She thought that was — God! — Ridiculous. She was at the bar the first time that night! Usually she does not restrain herself from gulping down drinks, but that night, she wanted to show off her nimble salsa toes in front of the big hot salsa crowd. Outrageous! Did the barman just mistake her for another Asian trash? Impossible! Her features are so much more interesting than other bland and boring girls because of her fantastic mix of Philipinno and Japanese blood; none of those flat-nose-narrow-eyes business going on here. Can't you see those big, bright eyes? Just like the female statues of Langkebulawa in Indonesia, staring into the sky waiting to be deified.

That's it, she has made up her mind — the next Monday she walked into her beginners' Chinese class with a faint smile on her face. "Hey! You look so different!" An eager student exclaimed. "Is it the new shoes?" No you fool, it's not the shoes. "Wow! It's your . . . you have blue eyes!" The eager student finally spotted them.

Blue eyes! That was it! Angelica got herself a pair of blue contact lenses. (Thanks, Daddy, right?) Of course Daddy dear fully supports her transformation into an outstanding individual. That is ingenious! With blue eyes, no one will confuse her with another Asian plebeian again. Now she is the chosen one, blue-eyed, blue-blooded, she's getting there! If that blind bartender saw her again, he would start wondering what clubs she might get him into—original-mahogany clubs, ancient Swedish crest over the squash court clubs. But…at a closer look, those blue contacts are actually very… hideous! They look absolutely artificial and out of context. Just imagine a blond Swede with black slanted eyes. What about a Ghanaian with golden locks, or a Turk with flat nose? There is something unnatural and sinister, taxidermological, about those blue things. It is as though she has fake eyeballs. That's right! It's like she glued a pair of blue glass eyes onto her forehead. It's — freaky!

When she is among Asians, it is absolutely necessary that she change out of her Asian skin and becomes something else. However, when she is in a crowd of Americans guys, she immediately sheds her Caucasian projections and flashes those coy smiles that are supposedly characteristic of Asian shyness.

"Why don't you guys come over? I know how to make miso soup, it's really yummy," says her shy smile.

At once, she assumes the role of an enthusiastic hostess of Eastern culture and emphasizes her Asian heritage. No, no, she is not like those Americans who don't know who the hell their ancestors were. She is special; she has a whole different world to share! Instantly, she would change into a silk bathrobe resembling a kimono to show those guys what her culture is like. "It takes so long to wear a real kimono properly, it takes hours," she would explain. "In Japan, every woman wears a kimono during new years. It's weird if you don't." She might even smear her face with ghostly white paste to make her look like more Japanese because as far as she can tell (keep in mind she spent four whole years there in the middle eighties), every Japanese from ancient dynasties looked like a geisha.

Chameleon girl. She changes her physique at will to fit her survival need — to be special. From hair color to a smile—changing outward appearance is the only way to establish a different identity. Of course, usually people are defined by their special traits. Like, "tell me about Sam", "oh Sam, he is so nerdy! He knows everything about old church Slavonic, and he has such a great sense of humor!" Or, "what's Pat like?" "Pat? She is awesome! She's such a cynic, the most sarcastic person alive!" etc, etc. But there are people who are like a blank slate, their personality a tabula rasa — absolutely boring and without impressions. Oh, Angelica? She's kind of nice . . . she is like . . . well she has a cute miniature poodle. For those poor bores, what is to be done but to draw on the face in order to appear more interesting? When one has no personality, one must rely on the skill to make one's external shell colorful! But there is nothing wrong with that. You have one life to live, why be a non-existent bore when you can be an ever-changing Chameleon?"

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Last modified 12 May 2005