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Some Misplaced Joan of Arc

Marjorie Light Is a 15-Year-Old Who Loves Velveeta Cheese Shells, Go Gurt and 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer.' She Also Idolizes Frida Kahlo, Riot Grrrls and the Patti Smith Lyrics for Which She's Named Her Zine. Which Makes Her a Typical --and Not So Typical-- L.A. Teenager.

August 01, 1999|DAVE GARDETTA | Dave Gardetta last wrote for the magazine about comedy impresario Jamie Masada

In "Parties, Filipino Style," Marjorie tallies 30 essential ingredients needed to throw a family Filipino party, a list that includes "one or two mah-jongg tables"; "an aunt wearing cheap designer knockoff clothes and feeling sexy"; "a grandma who keeps telling you Kain! Kain! (Eat! Eat!)"; "a gross purple ube cake"; "at least one token white person who pretends to like the food"; "a lot of people who ask other people questions about you instead of asking you, mostly when you're right in front of them"; "and one weird person (me)." Marjorie's family, which is extensive--her father is one of nine siblings--enjoys throwing parties. In fact, it is generally agreed that somewhere in Los Angeles one of Marjorie's relatives is throwing a party every weekend of the year, except for the month of January, when they all knock off to rest. The parties are known for their considerable size; if you invite one relative, goes the rule, you invite them all. "It's a package deal," says Shatto.

At Uncle Richard's party, everything on the list was happening at once. A grandma was worrying over the purple ube cake. Aunts looking sexy in designer knockoffs were playing mah-jongg. In fact, every one of the 50 or so relatives was playing a game of some kind. If it wasn't mah-jongg, it was pool, or Ping-Pong, or basketball, or smacking plastic Easter eggs with golf clubs, and if you weren't doing that, you were inside singing karaoke. Charlie Light is famous for his karaoke stylings. If you walk into the right bar in downtown L.A. and ask for Frank Sinatra, you will immediately be shown to Charlie Light's table. At Uncle Richard's bash he worked impressively through the Northeast corridor with "My Kind of Town" and "Chicago." Marjorie, after sitting through a series of relatives asking other relatives questions about her, was outside on a swing, quietly slurping blueberry Go Gurt.

Eagle Rock has a large Filipino community. Estimates run as high as 25% of the population, though no one in the community can tell you why Filipinos started settling there in such large numbers in the early 1980s. Eagle Rock High School is filled with Filipino teenagers. Marjorie says a traditional Filipina girl is supposed to play Mozart and "Happy Birthday" on the piano, act innocent and pretty, and that the whole idea makes her cringe. There is actually an ideal Filipina woman, named Maria Clara, from a folk tale that goes back to the Spaniards' arrival in the Philippines. "Maria Clara," says Shatto, "is a virgin, attractive, wears no makeup, wears the national dress, and knows how to set a beer glass down in front of her husband." Shatto says she was expected to be Maria Clara when she was 15, but she wondered if "being educated was part of Maria Clara." She says she doesn't want Marjorie to be a Maria Clara, but, on the other hand, she doesn't want her to end up like her older daughter, Lian, either, "cussing and playing drums all the time."

Marjorie is building an American self. She wants to abandon Filipino traditions like parties every weekend and no sleep-overs at your girlfriends' houses. "I am sorry," Shatto will protest. "This is not my culture--we do not have sleep-overs." The malleability of Marjorie and her friends' cultural identities is fluid and amazing. For instance, though Nick is by most definitions white, everyone in the clique will say about him, "Oh, Nick, well, he wants to be, like, a white boy," as if Nick was picking out an outfit in a catalogue, a choice that might lead a stranger to mistakenly remark, "Well, you're already wearing it, aren't you?" There are Filipinos who are black at Eagle Rock High School, and Latinos who are white. Marjorie has decided she is simply Marjorie, which is to say more white than Filipina. "I can't speak Tagalog," she says. "I feel a little alienated when I'm around other Filipino kids my age, and I have mostly white friends. I guess I relate to them more because they have no defined culture." This thinking--the ease of operating within the undefined space immigrant children discover in America's media culture--is on par with Marjorie's trying on ideas and identities like thrift store merchandise. It can lead to a blurry image that sometimes troubles others. Once, when a boy told her, "You would look good if you didn't dress like that," Marjorie replied, "You would look good if you didn't have a fat head."


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