One of the most rewarding things about our company, East Meets Dress, is that we get to serve as a bridge for our customers to more deeply connect with their Asian heritage. Our cheongsams are oftentimes a material manifestation of the heartfelt connections we have to our ancestors, an outward expression of our identities.
In a country as diverse and complex as the United States, the experience of being Asian American can only be just as diverse and complex. While there are shared sentiments, each Asian American person’s experience is largely shaped by their immediate surroundings.
Growing Up in Miami
“Both of my parents were born in China and met here in the U.S.,” said Angela Chan, an East Meets Dress customer who rocked our Gemma cheongsam at her high school prom. Angela grew up in Miami, Florida, in a predominantly Cuban community. “Where I grew up, it’s normal to be an immigrant or child of immigrants,” explained Angela, “but because it was a Cuban community, as an Asian American, I felt like a minority within a minority community.”
As a child of Cantonese immigrants, Angela spoke Cantonese at home. “I felt Chinese at home, but didn’t grow up with a lot of other Asian influences,” Angela recounted, “but in freshman year in high school, I started reading more about Chinese culture online.” Looking around, Angela noticed that there were distinctive fashion styles and trends popular among her family members in China and among international students from Asia. “I could tell my cousins in China had different interests and lifestyles, and it was very distinct from me and the Latinx community I grew up with.” commented Angela.
Angela also found Facebook groups, like Subtle Asian Traits, that had jokes and memes for Asian people. She enjoyed being part of these virtual communities, but also recognized that she didn’t understand all of the jokes and memes. “I can speak Cantonese conversationally, but I never learned to read or write, and I can tell there is a language and culture barrier between me and these online communities, even between me and my parents.” Angela reflected.
Starting Her Cheongsam Search
Throughout her high school years, Angela connected more deeply with her Chinese roots, and was very excited to wear a cheongsam to her prom. “The initial plan was to get my family in China to buy one for me,” said Angela, “but it turned out to be too hard to coordinate since I wasn’t there to choose and my family was looking at more traditional styles and I wanted something modern.”
Angela started her own online search and found a lot of pinterest photos she liked and from there, she found East Meets Dress. “I honestly don't think I would have worn a cheongsam to my prom without EMD,” said Angela, “the whole process was very personal. Even though EMD is based in the Bay Area, all the way across the country from Miami, EMD still made the communication very personal, and that is super important when I was getting a custom dress made just for me.”
After Angela received her custom Gemma cheongsam, she tried to find a matching tie for her prom date. “My date was my friend and we tried to find a tie to match my dress, but couldn’t find a brocade fabric like that. So I actually took the dress to a local tailor and had them cut out the back so I can have an open back dress and with that fabric, they made a pocket square for my prom date.”
[Side note: We are so impressed with Angela’s creative thinking, and due to their popularity, we now officially offer ties, bowties, and pocket squares to match the exact fabric of our dresses.]
For Angela, her prom night was a fairytale dream coming true. “Before prom, we met up in my friend’s house to take pictures,” Angela remembered every detail with a smile,”I was the only Asian girl wearing a traditional Chinese dress in that group. I really stook out, but it didn’t make me feel like an outcast. All the Latina moms were saying ‘ay, qué linda.’”
When Angela and her friends arrived at the actual prom night, they entered a room of approximated 900 seniors. “It was a huge banquet hall,” Angela described excitedly, “and I felt like I was in one of those princess movies where the room got quiet and heads turned and people talked about us.” Angela was so happy to treasure her special prom memories.
To other high schoolers thinking of wearing a cheongsam to prom, and to other young Asian Americans navigating our complex identities, Angela wants to say, “embrace your Asian American identity 100%!” She recognizes that it is oftentimes difficult to do, “It took me so long to get to this point of being proud, and I know a lot of us feel uncomfortable and embarrassed, but trying it hide our identity won’t ever work, because you are always going to be Asian; you cannot change the way you were raised, the way you look, and the way you speak,” said Angela, “but I accept it now, and I can connect to both Asian and American instead of having to pick one, and embracing this has made me so much happier as a person.”
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