Tear gas and swarthy skin

What did beauty mean to you when you were in your 20s?

It would be what it is now: what was popular, of course, which is different from what it is now…Hollywood and there wasn’t TV. Some people had TV, but my family didn’t. It was very rare. (“Beauty” was) the commercial idea.

I thought it was important not to look different. Clothes meant a lot more than they do now. (Now) it’s much more casual. It was less casual then. I was third generation, so my parents were very eager to assimilate, and part of the way they did that was through manners. It was sort of rigid. One of the books I remember from my early childhood was a book called “Manners Can Be Fun.” It had pictures of everything and it was to teach you the proper way to act. That was probably true for kids who grew up in the 2nd or 3rd generation.

It was much freer here in San Francisco (than on the East coast). I came in ´68, about 6 weeks after Dr. King was assassinated and about 10 days before Bobbie Kennedy was assassinated. So it was a good and very bad time. It was very exciting but there were horrible things happening too. I was in the East Bay then and I stayed in an apartment off of Telegraph Avenue. There was a curfew at night and I could hear the tear gas canisters being broken down the street…kids who were protesting and the protest would be broken by the tear gas. There was a curfew because of the protests.

What does beauty mean to you now?

I think it has more to do with inner beauty…that people don’t have to look like Lauren Bacall. I see beauty in faces that aren’t so traditionally beautiful.

If different, why have your ideas about beauty changed over the years?

I think part of it (the change) is aging but it’s also being exposed to more diversity. I started being active in ´64 in civil rights, so I met a lot of people with dark skin and that was not considered beautiful. Even Italians were considered “swarthy”, that was the word that was used. I’m very envious of Middle Eastern people with their black, black hair and dark skin. I think that’s just beautiful. It’s the same with African Americans.

I think it goes along with that concept of what’s acceptable…if it’s bad to have swarthy skin. If the society has prejudiced you against people with dark skin. If there’s prejudice, the benefit is to the person being prejudiced, so it makes them feel superior. Therefore, the way they look, for example, blond hair and fair skin (is considered beautiful).

San Francisco interview, October 2010

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