Monday, February 4, 2008

Chan Is Missing: The Asian American Journey

I read Chan Is Missing as a critique on Asian Americans' perception of their community above anything else. To set up the framework for this critique, the movie starts out with a faceless outsider not sure of what this Asian America, Chinatown, is. Jo appears to be annoyed by the outsider's typical questions and fantasized vision of this territory, but as the movie progresses, he comes to realize that Asian Americans themselves do not seem to have a full grasp on what Asian America is and more importantly, who Asian Americans are. After interviewing certain people, Jo tells the audience that they [ie. Mr. Lee and his wife] do not know who Chan is. Using Chan as a symbol for the hard-to-define-term, "Asian American," the movie shows us a wide range of images that Asian Americans carry in their minds, the images of projected desires and insecurities. In fact, Chan himself becomes less important than people's images of Chan along with passage of time, and I think the movie is trying to convey that the journey to find him is more important the end product. Peter X. Feng's notion of the term "Asian American" parallels this idea, as he emphasizes the process of becoming, rather than being, as the verb to describe "Asian American"; he believes in the fluid identity, paying attention to the progress (but not shifts) from one definition to another. But one thing that I am still struggling with Feng's essay is his diction, "becoming." I understand the difference between "becoming" and "being," one is dynamic while the other is static, but as much as he pays careful attention to language, I think the word "becoming" is problematic, if not inadequate, to describe what he and the movie seems to say about the definition of "Asian American."

I think what Feng is really trying to say is that one should study the term "Asian American" with a diachronic, rather than synchronic, approach. Diachronic approach studies language with attention to its development (dynamic) while synchronic studies language frozen in time (static) like the broken-clock analogy Feng uses. I find the word "becoming" not exactly the best word to describe something diachronic because to "become" means to "come to be." I think when we use the word "to become," we use it in anticipation of an end to this process, which in this case is "to be." We say something "becomes" something, knowing that there will be an end. But neither the essay nor the film have an end to process. Feng is opposed to the stable status of "to be," and nothing at the end of Chan Is Missing's is; the term "Asian American" keeps on moving and never stops, never seeming to have an end (like the wave movement of the sea towards the end of the movie?) Chan will never be, and nor will Asian Americans, if I understood both the film and the essay accurately. So, my limited understanding of the essay and the movie is that the term "Asian American" always will and should be in some sort of movement, a concept that puzzles me a little. Why would anyone want a journey that will never have an end?

No comments: