Tuesday, April 17, 2007

do not buy this book for your child.

here at chez 'zilla, we read a bevy of books as part of our nighttime routines. lately, it's been really fun (in the paloma's room anyway... back in the porkchop's crib, it's all..."good night moon, good night cow jumping over the moon, good night light and the red balloon" blah blah blah ad nauseum... ad nausea...). we stack up the pillows and hunker down in the blankets, read new stories, look at some pretty pictures and yawn and discuss and yawn and point and yawn again....

the thin man has enrolled the paloma in eb white 101 and roald dahl 101. and i've been slowly plugging thru the children's books that we (my sisters and me) all bought while in manila. finally, i came across this one, "ang pambihirang buhok ni raquel" or "raquel's fantastic hair".

i think my sister (whose name is pronounced "raquel" but is spelled "rachel" - i don't know why.) thought this was funny and oddly coincidental. but, i don't think she actually cracked open the book. or at least i hope she didn't... i'm hoping it was an honest mistake.

now, i don't know if it's because i think the market for childrens books is bigger here than in the philippines and/or because i've seen/read so many. or because i'm so familiar with the sick child book genre. when i see a childrens book about hair, i almost automatically assume it has something to do with illness. or race. this book? it throws in BOTH - for good measure.

anyhoo - four sentences into the story you read:

"Raquel doesn't know that I envy her. For she is truly pretty, with flawless fair skin."

*insert sound of car - schreeching to a halt*

WTF?! TRULY PRETTY = FAIR SKIN??!! here i was (a dark skinned filipina) reading this story to my (fair skinned, mixed race) daughter.

i paused for a little bit... and against my better judgment continued to read, i thought, "ok, it can't be as bad as i think. maybe there's an epiphany at the end...TWO sentences later... it got worse:

"When i compare myself with her, I feel inferior."

in the story, ana, the dark skinned "country cousin" (who btw - smells and sweats and doesn't speak good english), begins to visit raquel, the "city cousin", in manila. during one of their playdates, raquel faints and her fantastic hair falls off. apparently, raquel has leukemia and wears many different wigs. she's rushed to the hospital. and while waiting for her, ana has a revelation:

"Yes, I may not be rich, I may not be as beautiful, and I have a dark skin. But I am healthy."

i was so unsatisfied with the climax of this story that at this point, i stopped to discuss all of this with the paloma. we've had similar conversations already about my being different from other mommies. when she was very young, too young to speak, she questioned it - she would gently caress my CH and then trace her own face. finally, when she could talk, she asked about it, what it was, if it hurt... lately, it doesn't come up in conversation much at all anymore though i'm sure it will come up again later.

i really wasn't sure how or if she was processing this story. so i said, "paloma, this story makes me kind of sad." she responded, "why mommy?" and i said, "because the girl in the story is sad because her skin is darker than her cousins. is it bad that i have dark skin?" and she replied,"mommy,your skin is darker than mine. but that just means we're different. it's ok to be different. don't be sad because you're different. i love you." she smiled up at me and patted my dark skinned hand with her fair skinned hand.

i should have prefaced this whole post letting all of you non-filipinos know that it's actually very common for filipinos to say things like "oh, she's so beautiful! her skin is so light" or "stay out of the sun, you don't want to get too dark!" i remember when we were still children, my sisters and cousins would apply eskinol (a common face cleanser in the philippines, like clearasil here, that doubles as a skin whitener) before leaving for grade school. in college, my mother, a light skinned filipina, greeted me at the airport upon my return from a long weary trip from spain with an obvious frown, furiously rubbing my dark sunkissed face with spit on her thumb saying, "are you... DIRTY!?". and just recently on our trip to the philippines, the paloma was FAWNED over - all over manila - everyone commenting on her beautiful fair skin. it hurt especially when my own sister said to the paloma about my new, dark and beautiful niece, "i hope she doesn't get too jealous of you and your fair skin."

i am my father's daughter and like him, i am dark. as a child, it was made abundantly clear that i wasn't like other "superior" filipinas. to my critics, it was tragic enough that i was born "disabled" (their terminology, not mine), but to top it all off - how sad it was that i was dark. thankfully, it was easy for me to get over being dark - especially because all of my caucasian friends kept going to the lake, summer day, after summer day, after summer day, in an effort to achieve an all over bronze like me. i was a walking paint chip for bain de soleil. i really wish i could write more on the domination and history of western beauty ideals in asia but i'm just not that educated. suffice to say, it's an archaic standard and it's not something i will perpetuate or tolerate in my house.

the author of the book, luis p gatmaitan m.d., wrote another book that we have - a BETTER book - called "sandosenang sapatos" or "A Dozen Pairs of Shoes". i can recommend this book to you. it's another story that follows the lives of a shoemaker and his two daughters - one is born without feet. it's a charming story and it's especially poignant because it was sent to me by my youngest sister and reminds me of our relationship and my relationship with my father.

i can also tell you that the publisher of the book, adarna house, has other great storybooks told in both tagalog and english with wonderful whimsical illustrations by filipino artists. we bought many of their books during our trip and so far all of them have been great. but i will definitely be sending an email to them to complain about this book.

11 comments:

jordan said...

Hi Mamazilla, so nakapag-email ka naba sa Adarna?:)

My girlfriend pointed me to your post today, at nagsusulat ako sa iyo personally ngayon. Well, una sa lahat, salamat sa pagtangkilik sa aming mga libro nang napadaan ka sa 'pinas. Lagi kaming bukas sa komentaryo hinggil sa aming mga libro, kaya aming ipagmumuni-muni ang iyong mga nasabi at kakausapin ang may akda na si Luis ukol dito. Balikan kita sa anumang updates.

Salamat!
Jordan
Product Development Officer
Adarna House, Inc.
(Artist ako, pero di mo makikita sa title:)

honglien123 said...

Vietnamese have a similar, although not quite as vocal preference for lighter skin. My younger sister who is much darker than the rest of the family, was always teased that she must've been picked up somewhere and must've been a [insert darker Asian ethnicity here] castoff. And at our last bbq, all my aunties in a total reverse of sun bathing demanded that I bring all 8 of the family umbrellas out so that they wouldn't tan. Nothing I said could convince them that there was nothing wrong with being darker. =(

The Paloma is so sweet and wise with her words. It's nice to know that even if there's not much hope with changing the attitude of the older generation, there's a lot of hope for the younger ones.

Puglet said...

I just gave you my " Thinkg Blogger" award. *looks around* *looks at post* I wonder why. Anyway, I never do meme tags, but woman, you are SO it.

Angela said...

Mamazilla, great post! That's wonderful that you can talk so freely with Paloma and discuss important issues with her, great job!

mamazilla said...

first of all, i'd like to try to translate jordan's comment to everyone else (like me) who doesn't speak tagalog very well/at all... egads, i'm so embarassed... (EEK!)

"hi mamazilla, so have you emailed adarna yet? :) my girlfriend pointed me to your post today, i wanted to write to you personally. well, first of all, thank you for bringing our books with you from the philippines. we are often open to commentary regarding our books, perhaps we'll talk about what you wrote and talk about luis' story. will return for updates. thank you! jordan"

ok, people... THAT was almost as painful as an epidural... and it took two translation sites and a my mom - a visayan mom who doesn't speak a whole lot of tagalog herself.... it's the deaf leading the deaf... into a speedmetal concert. anyhoo...

jordan - thank you so much for writing to me. i really LOVE the books we have from adarna. i'm so sorry for murdering the tagalog/english transalation of your comment. mea culpa! and no, i still haven't written an email to adarna... the paloma came down with a fever and a cold which translates into me not doing anything until she gets better and i get some sleep... but, i'll get on it ASAP now. :)

honglien123 - doesn't that drive you absolutely BONKERS... the paloma has a talent for giving me hope... and a migrane headache. ;)

puglet - i'm on GLUE. i CAN'T be IT. neenarneenarneenar! ;)

angela - *blush* thanks for the compliment! it amazes me that i can talk with her (a four year old)about stuff like this and she STILL doesn't understand the importance of handwashing. (!!!)

Rachel said...

Great post. And ugh. I can relate, sort of. I used to check out Korean books from the library for my husband to read to my daughter, but since I don't actually read Korean I came home with some pretty cringe-worthy choices.

When Bella was young the Korean relatives would say "big eyes" when they saw her. It was meant as a compliment but it made me very uncomfortable.

daddy in a strange land said...

Oy. Our big trip to Manila and Cebu (me, la dra., The Pumpkin, and my in-laws) is in ONE WEEK (aack!)--thanks for letting me know what NOT to bring home as a souvenir.

I'm already wondering how many comments (that I'm not going to understand) are gonna be made about The Pumpkin looking Japanese or Chinese, with such light skin and light hair!

BTW, got these 2 Pinoy books from Tuttle to review, babygirl loves 'em, and they're bilingual--Filipino Friends (though the depiction of the balikbayan kid is sorta funny) and My First Book of Tagalog Words (both by Liana Romulo). Worth checking out!

Irene said...

I could never figure that whole "light" skinned mastisa Filipino thing. I've heard that it is the same in other cultures.

mamazilla said...

rachel - "big eyes"? i think that would make anyone uncomfortable. i mean who wants eyes as big as say fish eyes besides... fish? yikes. ;)

diasl - yeah. don't bring that home or some intestinal wormy thing.... and please ask la dra to take lots of pictures of your face when the relatives break out the pumpkin compliments... i would PAY to see those. ;) thanks for the recs - always looking for more books!

irene - yes, i've heard it in other asian cultures as well... that's why when people blame "the collective filipino colonized mind" i get a little perturbed. there are other asian cultures who were not colonized and who still have this same western beauty standard.

Jerome C. Herrera said...

Hello,
I am Jerome Herrera. I am the owner of Pinoy Penster Community, a website for Amateur and Professional Filipino Writers. I was wondering if we could exchange links. This will give your blog/website a wonderful opportunity to be exposed to our hundreds of visitors everyday. If you are interested, please email me at jeromeherrera2006@gmail.com. Pinoy Penster Community is located at http://penster.fyi.ph

Geraly said...

* 7/2/11 - just an fyi - a while back, i did send an email to adarna books. the response i received was short and cold and basically said my email was the only email they'd ever received and they would probably not re-edit/review the book... so there you have it...

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