Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Our" America

From the opening scene, with Renee Tajima-Pena enjoying an All-American can of Coca-Cola in front of the classic stars-and-stripes backdrop of the Statue of Liberty, before embarking on a quintessential American road trip, the message Tajima-Pena seems to be sending is that Asian-America is America -- not separate from it, but intertwined in America's events and stories. Renee Tajima-Pena interviews a fascinating span of people, from coast-to coast, proving simultaneously that Asian-America is everywhere, and that Asian-Americans occupy a vast array of roles in shaping America's history.

Discarding many Asian stereotypes, Renee's subjects prove that Asian-Americans can be freedom fighters, southern belles, or movie stars. I remember being really struck by the Kochiyamas, especially -- it is not often that the role of Asian-Americans in the Civil Rights movement is discussed. Activism seems to play a major role in many of the interviewees lives, and this, to me, was especially inspiring.

I feel as if the film was also effectively able to tackle the subject of racism; the subjects didn't hesitate to describe discrimination they had faced, even within their own families. The Seoul brothers of Seattle were especially effective in dealing with racism head-on, with clever lyrics, in a normally African-American dominated medium. However, in the story of the Filipino-American sisters in Louisiana, who proclaim, "We're Americans first, then Southerners", I found an interesting twist -- they considered themselves white, though still retained a strong sense of their Filipino culture. I wasn't sure what to make of them, though I did find their story fascinating.

The diverse stories of all those interviewed shows just how rich our stories are, and how inspiring. Tajima-Pena shows that Asian-Americans are not "the other", they are America.

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