Thursday, January 31, 2008

Response to My America

Throughout her movie, Renee Tajima-Pena emphasizes the importance of family in shaping one's self-portrait as an Asian American. For many characters interviewed in the movie, their sense of identity has developed from child-parent or child-grandparent relationships at home, whether these relationships were good or bad. For Victor Wong, his rocky relationship with his father, a former mayor of Chinatown, has lead him to reject the idea that he is Chinese, the idea that he should "return" to his "homeland." On the other hand, the Filipina Americans in New Orleans have long accepted the idea that they are American, not Filipino, inherited it from their grandmother. It seems like the question of "Am I Asian or Am I American?" gets contested within the family, the smallest unit of community, before the younger generation begins to form their sense of identity in larger communities outside home.

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.

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