Thursday, January 31, 2008
What are the implications of this? Does it lend the film an authenticity? How would this film have been different had the documentarian been an invisible force behind the camera? Perhaps a more interesting question, how would this film have been different had the documentarian been non-Asian? Could it still be titled, "My America"?
“Hey kid, where are you from?”
“Cool, where are you really from though?”
Questions such as these have made me question my own identity. Did I belong here in the U.S.A? Who had the right to be the true American? Should I change myself to become the ideal American citizen? Throughout Renee Tajima-Pena's “My America”, she is followed through her journey through the USA examining and revealing the definition of Asian American culture. Her search of “Asian America” through interviews and close examination of the many issues of Asian history in America has helped me understand that I am not the only Asian dash American trying to find my own identity.
In class today, we addressed some of the stereotypes held regarding Asians, which drew my attention to a topic I am covering in a different class. Our discussion made me think of articles I recently read for my Anthropology class, Violence and the Media, which focused on the brutal beating of Vincent Chin. In her 2002 article “A Slaying in 1982 Maintains Its Grip on Asian-Americans,” Lynette Clemetson writes that even 20 years after Chin’s death, Asian Americans still find themselves dealing with “persistent stereotypes, like the 'perpetual foreigner' with questionable allegiances or the 'model minority'” and how these stereotypes still affect the Asian American fight for equality in America in the present day (Clemetson). This causes me to wonder how far we have come as a country if after over 20 years the same issues that caused Chin’s death still directly affect us today. I hope we might get to address this horrific event sometime later in the course and consider what the impact (if any) it had on society and on future generations of Americans.
If you are interested in this article, here is the link:
Keeping this concept in mind, I think Tajima-Pena does something very interesting towards the end of the movie. Using her family as an example, she seems to portray the ideal way to grapple with the question of Asian American identity. In her family, the younger generation immigrants are not the only ones who are on the journey for their identity; their parents and grandparents never stop searching for their identity. Not only that, they continue to change their self-perception, as Tajima describes her parents, "They learn from their children. Not a very Asian thing to do, or is it?" Here, she does two very important things: 1) she comments that child-parent relationships are symbiotic, that both parties progress through conversations, not lectures and 2) she raises an important question of "What is Asian American?" And it seems like the definition of Asian American transforms along with the Asian American people's change in perception of themselves.
Someone has raised a good question about why Tajima-Pena has chosen Victor Wong's story to weave the narrative together, and I think it's because Victor has experienced the parent-child relationship from both perspectives--one as a Chinatown mayor's son, and the other as a father of third generation Asian Americans. Through him, Tajima-Pena shows us the transformations
of an Asian American, his struggle to balance his inherited values with his self acquired values. Although Victor Wong is far from an amiable character, I think he serves as a model for a progressive Asian American who has conformed with the American society's values without losing much of the Asian values. His giving of the red envelop to a baby whose parents seem to be very Americanized is an important symbol of the undying "old" Asian influence in Asian American communities.
Wouldn’t they too be considered Asian Americans? I guess I have less of a problem with the film and more of a problem with the term “Asian American”.
Also on a side note, like Allison, I was also confused about the role of Victor Wong. I guess he was chosen as the uniting voice because he did so many different things over the last 4 decades and because he fought so hard in not being defined by his race. I also thought his story was interesting in relation to the entire film because like he spent his whole life trying to reject the traditional Chinese ways of his father and various stereotypes people had about Asians, but in the end he just ended up isolating himself from his family. I also find it interesting that a lot of his acting roles were stereotypical Asian roles like the “Grandpa Mori” wise sensei role within the 3 Ninjas series. Why would he play the stereotypes that he spent his whole entire life trying to escape?
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
One of the questions that I had while watching the movie was wondering why Victor Wong was the consistent narrative that tied the movie together. I could understand that his openness about various Asian American issues was a good way to lead from one topic to the next in the documentary, but is there any other reason why his voice was chosen to be the “uniting” character? Why did she choose his voice over the other people that she interviewed?
The film, My
Even though I desire a sense of solidarity with other Asian Americans, my personal struggles with identity feel very removed from the civil rights and anti-discrimination rhetoric used during political climate of the 60's and 70's. I have always considered myself "Asian-American" or "Korean-American" without even considering the historical context and identity politics in which these terms were created. The "American" portion of my self-assigned label represented my integration into mainstream culture and a certain rejection of my cultural heritage, while the "Asian" portion represented my resignation to the inescapable biological and historical causes of my difference. Even though my grandparents were never prisoners in Japanese internment camps and my parents are not refugees from the Vietnam War, the fact that I feel compelled to find this history relevant to my identity seems to be an indication that I have been unwillingly conflated with other Asian ethnicities by White America. In such a way, the label Asian American feels empty and bland, a catch-all term that used to have empowering political connotations but is now merely attempts to rationalize an uncharacterizable population.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Use this blog to post your reactions to the readings and films each week. Your posts don't need to be formal. We're not looking for lengthy essays. But we do want to see that you're engaging the material. What surprised you? What did you find most interesting about a particular reading or film? Why? What questions were you left with after a reading or film or class discussion? Feel free to pose questions here, to comment on each other's entries, to draw connections between the readings, films, lectures, and discussions. Draw connections to material that we're not discussing. Refer to specific examples from the readings and films as appropriate.
This is your opportunity to record your thoughts and commentary about the course and to get a sense of what others are thinking. We'll pick up some of this in class discussion. And some of the musings on this blog may also provide material for our class website project.
Please post by Sunday each week in response to the material for the coming week. In other words, respond to Chan Is Missing and accompanying readings by Sunday, 2/4. We're a little behind this week, but please post a response to My America, Or Honk If You Love Buddha by this Friday, 2/1.