Pure Beauty: Judging Race in Japanese American Beauty Pageants
By Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain.
With a low rate of immigration and a high rate of interracial marriage, Japanese Americans today compose the Asian ethnic group with the largest proportion of mixed-race members. Within Japanese American communities, increased participation by mixed-race members, along with concerns about over-assimilation, has led to a search for cultural authenticity, giving new answers to the question, Who is Japanese American?
In Pure Beauty, Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain tackles this question by studying a cultural institution: Japanese American community beauty pageants in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Honolulu.
King-O’Riain employs rich ethnographic fieldwork to discover how these pageants seek to maintain racial and ethnic purity amid shifting notions of cultural identity. She uses revealing in-depth interviews with candidates, queens, and community members, her experiences as a pageant committee member, and archival research-including Japanese and English newspapers, museum collections, private photo albums, and mementos-to establish both the importance and impossibility of racial purity. Ultimately, she determines that the concept of race, fragile though it may be, is still one of the categories by which Japanese Americans are judged.
Paper: 280 pp.