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Chinese-American Debutante Ball Wins Attention From TV

Talk about hitting the social jackpot. Not only did Saturday’s Winter Blossom Ball make the big time--it marked the country’s first ever Chinese-American debutante ball--it made prime time.

Boyd Matson, correspondent for NBC’s “Real Life With Jane Pauley” television show, was on hand, interviewing and overseeing the filming of the debs as they made their formal bow to society in the Grand Ballroom of the Disneyland Hotel.

The tall and suave Matson, an NBC correspondent since 1974, flew in from New York with producer Betsy Kavetas on Friday so they could rise early on Saturday to shoot the debs as they were made up, had portraits taken, rehearsed and stole their parents’ breath away when--in flowing white gowns--they swept through an archway smothered with flowers and twinkle lights.

Kavetas got the idea for what is to become the deb documentary after seeing a September article about the upcoming ball in the View section of The Times: More than 20 Chinese-American women were going to make their debuts to benefit the Asian American Senior Citizens Service Center in Santa Ana.

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“I was visiting a girlfriend in Malibu--that’s how I happened to see it,” said Kavetas, one of 10 field producers for the television show. “When I got back, I told Jane about it and she loved the idea. We’d been looking to do a story on debs, but this was going to be much more interesting than doing one in New York or Philadelphia.”

The event would be delightfully ironic, thought Matson, who occasionally shares the interview spotlight with Pauley.

“The debs’ parents are very proud of the fact that they’ve come to America and made it,” Matson said. “So they’ve taken on a Western tradition to push something they want . . . (their daughters) to meet some nice Asian boys.” And, Matson added, “The philanthropic approach gives their community the chance to take care of its elders, a Chinese tradition they’re afraid they’ll lose by becoming Americanized.”

Debutante Carolyn Mar of Irvine agreed that the ball was about more than the chance to meet Chinese-American boys (all of the debs’ escorts were Chinese-American). It was about borrowing an American tradition to instill Chinese values.

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“That’s what this whole thing is really for,” said Mar, 20, a Brown University senior, who made her debut with her sister Christine Mar, 17.

“On one hand, " she said, “it might be seen only as an assimilation of American culture. But, we’re really doing something very Asian, taking care of the elderly--putting them first. It’s a unique collision of two cultures and the ball puts them together in a very beautiful light.”

Christine Mar listened carefully as her older sister spoke. “How eloquent ,” she said in a teasing tone. “Seriously,” she added with a giggle, “what Carolyn said is true.”

Were the sisters nervous about making their debuts in front of 400 guests and rolling TV cameras? “Not really,” said Christine, a senior at University High School. “All my friends are going to be up there with me.”

“Well, it’s pretty exciting,” conceded Carolyn, an English major. “I had no idea it was going to be such a media event.”

Festivities began at 6 p.m. with a cocktail reception and silent auction, which included artworks by March Fong Eu, California secretary of state. After their presentation, the debutantes joined their families for a sit-down dinner of sorrel bisque en croute, filet of beef Bordelaise and a potato basket brimming with shrimp and scallops.

Daniel Shen, founding chairman of the Asian American Senior Citizens Service Center, welcomed guests, who sat at tables with mirrored pedestal vases containing daisies, carnations and tuber roses.

“About a year ago,” Shen announced, “a group of us thought how wonderful it could be to do something for the Asian senior citizens of Orange County. The need for a facility was obvious. Tonight, we raise funds for a dream. A dream we can make true for our senior citizens.”

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Also making their debuts were Grace Chang, Pei-Lin Chen, Stacie Cheng, Rosalie Chin, Tammy Chin, Alice Hsu, Corinna Kao, Sansan Kwan, Annie Lai, Cindy Lee, Gigi Lee, Joni Lee, Kristine Lee, Lily Lee, Marian Lee, Michelle Li, Emily Liu, Christine Sun and Bernice Wu.

Among special guests were ball chairwoman Ruth Ding (who estimated proceeds from the $100-per-person event at about $100,000); ball co-chairwomen Mary Hsu and Sarah Mar; Nelson Mar, president of the senior center; Thomas Yuen of AST Research Inc.; John Chang of British Petroleum Chemicals Inc.; 1984 Olympic Team figure skater Tiffany Chin; Michael Chang, winner of the 1989 French Open tennis tourney; March Fong Eu and her son, Matt Fong, and Beaulah Ku, executive director of the Assn. of Asian Pacific American Artists.


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