Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My America or Honk, If You Love Buddha Response

Renee Tajima-Pena presented the question "Will we ever truly belong in America?" in her documentary; she attempted to answer it with a roadtrip. Similar to the many zigzags present on such a trip, Renee at times fluctuated in her devotion to answering that question. And perhaps this results more from the nature of the question than Renee's attempt. Her use of the pronoun "we" suggests that asian americans are collectively a similar group, one which faces the same struggles and issues. But as shown in the film, this could not be further from the truth. The lives of those interviewed were almost inherently different from one another. There was clearly a shift in dynamic from watching an immigrant seamstress recounting the horrors of her escape to listening to the Soul brothers preaching Malcolm X's mantra, "By any means necessary." In regards to the former, I wished Renee delved a little bit deeper into her narrative. She claims that she is too embarassed to ask the seamstress about identity. Now this is interesting. Does Renee's embarassment undermine the idea of identity in regards to survival? Do these two things intersect? Throughout this segment, the seamstress talks mainly about her life as a survivor; her identity is formed around one basic goal: to live. In a way, her identity seems like a natural outcome of her hardship. I felt as though she did not (whether consciously or unconsciously) construct a persona from american culture like the Soul brothers with their use of urban music to "fight back" or Tom Vu with his role as a financial success. This actually leads into the deeper question of what exactly is identity, how much of it is constructed? I find it very difficult to answer Renee's deceptively simple original question without sounding completely incoherent. It is impossible to make sweeping general statements about asians americans as each experience is different. Victor Wong said that he did not know what it meant to be Chinese and American growing up; he was confused as no one before him had really set a precedent on what it meant to be an Asian American citizen. Perhaps not so much has changed since the fifties (in regards to this confusion) as Asian Americans' relationships with their country and with themselves are constant changing. It is hard to say if there can be any defining precedent on how to be Asian American. The question originally posed by Renee is not static. Maybe it was best that she did not leave the viewer with a definite conclusion.

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