Wednesday, January 30, 2008

My America, or Honk If You Love Buddha

The film, My America, or Honk If You Love Buddha, searches for what is Asian America. By the end, the film presents an interesting challenge to the viewer: how do Asian Americans see themselves and how do Asian Americans express themselves? However, the term Asian American presents a difficult challenge as far as definition. As expressed in the introduction of Alien Encounters, I agree that the term is best viewed as subjectless and not to be enumerated (5). Nevertheless, I find problematic the fact that the film neither features nor mentions South Asians in America. It is understandable that the film cannot encompass all facets of “Asian America” but rather shows how Asian Americans relate and shape the term and their environment. However, the film features mainly families of East Asian and Southeast Asian descent. The lack of South Asians begs the question then if it was intentional or accidental. In this light, the title is somewhat ironic since the Buddha and Buddhism originate from India which could itself raise the question of the connotations of the word Buddha. Furthermore, though the film does examine the intersection of race and class, albeit superficially, with the Laotian immigrant in Duluth, the film promotes a heteronormative view of Asian Americans.

Without critiquing the film too harshly, I was surprised by the various facets of Asian Americans. One of the biggest surprises was the son of Bill and Yuri Kochiyama who was part of the Freedom Rides. At least in the textbooks with which I was taught, the Freedom Riders were only white and black civil rights activists. An Asian American as part of the Freedom Riders was a nice surprise since horizontal hostility between ethnicities has been seen as a deterrent to prevent such coalitions. However, I wonder, then, what are the relationships between Asian Americans and other groups (whether the group can be classified by race, class, or gender) and how is it expressed in pop culture? The film shows one positive relationship. I was also surprised when the film mentioned that the teacher declared the Japanese internment camps as false and the parents as liars. For me, it poses the question of what it means to be a witness and the expression of witnessing.

-Christopher Huynh

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