In the 1930s, a doctor left my grandmother Alice Ishizaki (above) a house in his will - as thanks for cleaning his home. His family contested the will and she ultimately lost the case. My mom remembers seeing newspaper clippings about the case and tells me that my grandmother was described only as “the Japanese movie star”.
It was her movie-star beauty that helped her become (according to my family) the first Asian American to be hired at either Broadway or Bullock’s department store in Los Angeles.** Although the department store had a policy about not hiring women of color, they hired my grandmother on the spot when they saw her because she had flawless skin. She worked for a number of years at their make-up counter.
When FDR signed Executive Order 9066 in 1942, she and her family were forced to move to Gila River internment camp.
My grandmother will be 98 years old this year. She was always very fashionable. She’s been using Elizabeth Arden day and night cream since the 1950s and still uses it today. It’s one of her main beauty tips. Her other beauty tips include wearing sunscreen, shades for the eyes, and gloves for your hands. Always wear bright lipstick. Always stretch. She still does all of these things today.
Submitted by Cheryl Motoyama (Santa Ana, California).
**At the turn of the century, when retail sites, especially department stores, held out the promise of economic and social independence for white women as consumers and workers, Asian American women were prohibited from participating in these sites in either capacity. Historically associated with cheap and servile labor, they were deemed a degrading presence in retail shops. [From my journal article “The Right to Fashion in the Age of Terrorism” in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 36.2 (2011)]