Half Gods is a fascinating set of intertwined short stories spanning Sri Lanka and America, charting a story about family, survival, and home. Akil Kumarasamay’s debut collection is captivating and engaging. Two brothers, named after characters in the Mahabharata, lie at the center. Yet they are not the center. A grandfather wrestles with his life in New Jersey, while other remained in the chaos of war. A father looks for a son, disappeared in Sri Lanka’s war. A woman seeks solace in an unlikely, and yet likely, place. We get to see slices of individual’s lives, where the past haunts and guides them. An unraveling of who they are, more than plot.
This is the kind of collection that would be fascinating to read again. The writing is deft and intricate and yet deeply honest in the longing, loneliness, and comforts of humanity. In my first read, there was a single paragraph that struck me. It is not a turning point in a character’s life, yet says so much about living in the diaspora. A second would surely highlight another.
…All were parts of a childhood you had not care for, and now thinking of your son, who would never have to listen to cassettes of bhajans and deal with people he conversed with only in formalities, people who would drop everything to pick you up at an airport, hospital, cook meals when your mother was ill, all because they too traveled that same distance separating one part of the world from the other, you feel as if something dear has perished.
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When I was an undergraduate, a Filipino American classmate once asked me why I was pronouncing my last name wrong. What? I was pronouncing my name wrong for the first 20 or so years of my life? Apparently so, and my parents never bothered to correct me, leaving our last name constantly mispronounced. But what’s in a name really? According to this article and others, quite a lot, especially if names are “hard” to pronounce.
Fayeza Hasanat’s debut short story collection, The Bird Catcher and Other Stories, is set in the Bangladesh and the United States. It is filled with questions about identity and belonging, about those who are seeking answers under the weight of expectations–their own or otherwise.
A favorite discusses a talkative grandmother who wrestles with the idea of home, herself an immigrant, residing with her children in the U.S. Several others turn on gender dynamics, and those who are between genders or missing some traditional aspect associated with proscribed roles for men and women. Many take dark turns, faced with life on the edge.
Hasanat’s writing is a bit flowery to my taste, but her concepts are intriguing and her characters vulnerable, and their experiences of feeling out of place honest.
If you need some last minute inspiration for your Thanksgiving extravaganza, take a look through Marvin Gapultos brightly-colored book of finger foods, Pulutan! Filipino Bar Bites, Appetizers and Street Eats. Now given if you don’t cook a lot of Filipino food (hi, me), you might not have fermented shrimp paste on hand which makes the pork meatballs with spicy coconut sauce temporarily out of reach. But you probably do (or your neighborhood run-of-the-mill American grocery store will) have the ingredients to whip up some spam mac’n’cheese.
Pulutan! is seriously flashy, with bold colored pages, and drink pairings for every dish. Organized by how you cook it (grilled, fried), the opening chapter introduces the concept of pulutan to novices (hi, me again). No recipe is longer than an open spread, so you know it can’t be all that complicated. The instructions are easy to follow once you’ve got all the ingredients on hand.
This a great story on a prank when two Asian American men noticed that Asian Americans weren’t being profiled in some of McDonald’s restaurant’s posters:
“Earlier this month, Jevh Maravilla and Christian Toldeo became viral superstars because of a mock poster they created and hung on the wall of a McDonald’s restaurant in Pearland, Texas. It featured themselves in an apparent advertisement for the fast food chain.
The image was so convincing that it had reportedly gone unnoticed by the eatery’s employees for 51 days before Maravilla tweeted about it Sept. 2. As of Monday, it had been liked more than 1 million times.”
Inspired by ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ for representation, Jevh and Christian were motivated to have themselves represented.
In mid September, day time talk show host Ellen DeGeneres in hosted Jevh and Christian and surprised them:
“She also revealed that the pair will be highlighted in a forthcoming McDonald’s ad campaign, and handed them each a check for $25,000 as “payment” for their commitment to diversity.”
Imagine making onto to national TV and getting a surprise $25k for a prank! I’m looking forward to seeing this at a local McDonald’s hopefully.
In November of this year, it will be Chopso’s one-year anniversary. It’s amazing to me we’ve made it this long. But we won’t be able to go on forever unless we continue to get support from our community. I can’t speak for my friend, filmmaking partner, and my partner in Chopso Quentin Lee but when I do anything for Chopso I always feel like this is our gift to the community. Something that has been needed for a long time, been tried a few times, but has never completely worked. And instead of waiting for someone else to try it again or hope we get more representation by the mainstream networks and studios, we went ahead and did it ourselves.
For those of you who don’t know, Chopso is a streaming service for movies, documentaries, shorts, and digital series featuring Asian stories and faces. I use the shorthand Asian American Netflix as a description of what the company is when asked by my friends. However, that’s not completely accurate. While Quentin and I were putting the company together, we realized pretty quickly that our audience was bigger than just Asians living in America and that Asians around the globe (especially those living outside of Asia and in English speaking countries) shared a lot of common experiences. So in addition to Asian Americans, we’ve made it a point to reach out to Asians around the globe — so that meant Asians living in Canada, UK, Australia, etc.
The first year of Chopso has been both the most challenging but also been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had in my career. Some of the challenges include acquiring content and getting subscribers, things every streaming platform I’m sure has to go through. And with no outside funding and no major support from traditional Hollywood, we’ve had to do it all on our own.
Knowing that, I think you can guess one of our biggest challenges: getting noticed. With so many places to watch content nowadays, it’s sometimes difficult to rise above the noise. But I’m proud to say that almost every month our viewership and subscribers have gone up. We’ve made dents in social media and our following is growing all the time. We hope with more time and maybe with a marketing/advertising budget in year two we can grow even more.
The other challenge is something that continues to surprise me. The Asian American community largely ignores anything that hasn’t been done by the mainstream networks and studios. For example, when I talk to people about Chopso, most of what they tell they’d want to see on the site are the famous studio movies like Joy Luck Club or Crazy Rich Asians. Both of which are great, however, it completely ignores the fact that there has been and continues to be so much amazing Asian (American) content out there. Most of which has never been seen outside the Asian American film festival circuit.
We, as a community, need to do a better job of supporting Asian content from the students and youth who are making their first projects to the grizzled veterans making hard-hitting documentaries about our communities and independent movies featuring Asian actors and of course the studio movies. Only when we, as a community, can show that these movies have a viable market, will the studios and networks make more of them. This isn’t just a pipedream. Other communities of color have shown us that this is possible. Chopso was my answer to this issue. Yet, one year later, it’s also the reason that Chopso has not taken the huge leap that I had hoped it would take.
So how can you support us? First and foremost, we need more subscribers. For the price of a cup of artisanal coffee, you can watch a large selection of Asian-centric movies and shows on Chopso for one month. In addition, we need your help spreading the word about Chopso. Follow us on all the social media platforms, and then tell a friend or two or three or four. Go ahead and even tell an enemy two as well.
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And if you’re a creator, we need more amazing content. Hit us up and let us know what you have. We’d love to feature you and your work on Chopso!
Lloyd Suh’s new play, The Chinese Lady, takes us on a journey with the first Chinese woman to set foot in the United States. Her name was Afong Moy. She arrived in 1835 at the age of 14 and was put on display as “The Chinese Lady.” The cost of admission? 25 cents for adults, 10 cents for children. Co-produced by Ma-Yi Theater Company and the Barrington Stage Company, the cast of two–Shannon Tyo and Daniel Isaac–takes the audience on a journey through Afong’s life.
Afong (played by Shannon Tyo), we are told, comes from a well-off family, the youngest of seven, and has bound feet–making her a curiosity to New York audiences. Her family sold her into two years of service with American merchants. We are quickly introduced to Atung (played by Daniel K. Isaac), her translator, who we are told speaks both Chinese and English. Most of the speaking stays with Afong, with occasional interjections from Atung that bring warmth and comedy and humanity to these largely forgotten historic figures.
We follow Afong as she ages, but remains on display, even meeting President Jackson. Her optimism begins to waver, her clothes changes, and still she thinks about relations between the U.S. and China, between her and her audience. Towards the end, the play rapidly casts its audience through Chinese American immigration history via Afong–1882 Exclusion Act, the Geary Act, and on–before jumping to the present. This is an important lineage, but I felt this contemporary jump overly much and a bit didactic.
Still, Suh’s play seeks to dive into and through our constant conversations about identity and cross-cultural understanding and belonging and otherness, all the while weaving in our collective past. And that makes it worthwhile.
The Chinese Lady is playing at Theatre Row (410 W. 42nd Street) through Sunday, November 18. Cost: $30-$42.25. Tickets are available by calling 212-239-6200; or online at: www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/The-Chinese-Lady/ or through TodayTix at https://www.todaytix.com/x/nyc/shows/12360-the-chinese-lady#noscroll
Photo by Eloy Garcia
Asian Americans have had a long history with US Armed forces, as we have written about before. I grew up surrounded by Filipino American Navy Veterans and their families, and I lived the Navy Brat lifestyle. When looking for stories about veterans, I found this profile on prominent and historic Asian and American and Pacific Islander Army veterans. It is notable for acknowledging the long history of Asian American veterans and for having one particularly notable omission.
A description of Senator Daniel Inouye was not surprising – I definitely expected someone from the 442nd regiment to be included. Also not surprising was the inclusion of Senator Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs in the Iraq War. I didn’t know about Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who is still serves in the Hawaii Army National Guard.
The picture above is of that Edward Day Cohota. Born in China, he fought in the American Civil War. That surprised me – I didn’t know that there were any Chinese Americans who fought in that war! He went on to serve in the army for 30 years. Cohota thought his long years of service would grant him citizenship, but he didn’t get his papers completed before the Chinese Exclusion Act and never became a citizen, a story echoed today of what has happened with some current immigrants in the military.
Conspicuously missing was any mention of Major General Antonio Taguba. Taguba, as you may recall, was responsible during the Iraq War for compiling a report on prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison which was leaked in 2004. He was asked to retire in 2007. Lou Sing Kee, a WWI War hero, was not listed. I also learned that he was even mentioned (as Sing Kee) in a Stevie Wonder song called Black Man.
Despite a few omissions, I still think it is a list worth reading (see the other Chinese American who fought in the Civil War). For other Asian American veteran stories, I suggest checking out Koji Sakai‘s graphic novel 442. StoryCorp’s Military Voices project has many moving Veteran stories, such as this one that we that highlighted on a Memorial Day and this one on a past veteran’s day.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 5, Episode 5: “Mo’ Chinese Mo’ Problems”
Original airdate November 9, 2018.
The ladies will kick it: While going door to door as a U.S. Census volunteer, Evan discovers there’s another Chinese family in the neighborhood (Reggie Lee, Ming-Na Wen, and Jimmy O. Yang). The Huangs and the Lees are overjoyed, but Louis feels his new buddy moving in on his friendship with Marvin, and Jessica becomes disillusioned when Elaine turns out not to be the role model she hopes.
Eddie and Emery, inspired by Evan, pose as Census volunteers in order to find out which neighbors have their own swimming pools and when during the day nobody’s home.
The rhyme that is wicked: I’m not going to lie. I’m totally here for anything Ming-Na is in (okay, except Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), so I was going to like this episode almost no matter what. Add Jimmy O. Yang, this year’s runner up (to Awkwafina) for Summer of ________ status, and I’m willing to forgive almost anything. I love the decision to play Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First” when Elaine saunters up to the mural wearing her low-rider jeans. Everyone bows to Ming-Na.
There’s an interesting and almost surely deliberate irony when Jessica twice, in the company only of Louis and the Lees, utters stereotypes of Chinese people and Jewish men in an episode where she protests the stereotypical portrayal of Asians in a school mural. I am not smart enough to break it down, so somebody please do it in the comments!
Deirdre is hilarious in this episode.
Lines I enjoyed:
“You always find fresh ways to be boring.” (Eddie)
“I’m usually four times more beautiful than this.” (Elaine)
“My oldest son’s middle name is Elvis.” (Louis)
“I hate racism and I love a trap.” (Jessica)
“Betrayed by my beautiful face.” (Jessica)
“Maybe turn you into a sausage man.” (Marvin)
Those who don’t know how to be pros:
I said I’d be willing to forgive just about anything. Among “anything” are tons of overacting by all the principals including the guest stars (but not including Yang).
Is “whale tale” an anachronism?
FOB moment: The Huangs welcome the Lees with a fruiting lemon tree.
Soundtrack flashback: “Ladies First” by Queen Latifah (1989). If you haven’t heard the early Latifah stuff, I recommend it highly.
Get evicted: The episode is rescued from a C by the end, with Horace’s redo of the We Are the World mural, plus of course the guest cast, whom I adore. B.
Discover Card has had Asian Americans in their commercials before. In fact, it looks like they have revisited the character from a previous Discover card ad about an office holiday party.
In this one,
A woman learns, from another Asian American woman in customer service:
that she gets cash back matched by Discover Card on the amount she earns herself.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 5, Episode 3: “Workin’ the ‘Ween”
Original airdate October 20, 2018.
It’s the heart afraid of breaking
Marvin and Honey ask Louis and Jessica to be their baby’s godparents. Jessica eagerly agrees, mostly so Marvin and Honey can have a date night, leaving the Huangs to babysit on Halloween night, and shutting down Louis’s efforts to persuade Jessica to dress in a couples costume with him.
Jessica and Louis are alarmed to discover that they aren’t the naturally talented parents they thought. Their claim that Eddie was weaned from the pacifier with no problems is a deception by Louis; their claim that Emery’s weaning was even easier is a deception by Jessica.
Eddie gets a job selling mattresses (his boss is played by George Wendt) and works Halloween night to prove he has what it takes. Trent comes by to help, but he’s much more of a hindrance.
Evan and Emery, dressed as Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, get to hand out candy at the front door, where they have a problem with a girl who shows up repeatedly, each time in a different costume.
That never learns to dance
Another silly but mildly entertaining Halloween episode. The costumes are great, and it’s nice to see the continued development of Eddie’s character (in two separate plots!). There’s a moment at the end of the teaser where Louis gives his dejected face. That face is some excellent Randall Park acting. My favorite costume in the episode is Grandma as Freddy Krueger.
Despite this being a really meh episode, the tag at the end is completely unexpected, perfectly in character (which is a brilliant paradox), terrific character development for Eddie, and genuinely sweet. Sweet Eddie is the best! Eddie made Evan!
Lines I enjoyed: “Alf was a puppet?” (Jessica). “You love black dresses and putting words into my mouth” (Louis). “Not being wise is being dumb. You make me dumb” (Jessica). “Damn you, perfect Evan!” (Louis).
It’s the dream afraid of waking
Trevor Larcom as Trent was, last season, regularly the best actor among the young men who play Eddie’s friends. He has an off episode here, and it may not be his fault. Trent’s part in this episode is idiotic. Hudson Yang as Eddie feels pretty off as well, although he has a few good moments in the mattress store. All three plots feel like something out of the sitcom plot handbook.
FOB moment: “A Japanese man saved my father’s life once, so you’re hired.”
Soundtrack flashback: “The Rose” by Bette Midler (1979) and the theme from The X-Files by Mark Snow.
That never takes a chance: The wonderful final few seconds of the episode give it a boost, but not much of a boost. B-.
Fresh Off the Boat, Season 5, Episode 2: “The Hand That Sits the Cradle”
Original airdate October 12, 2018.
I’m goin’ out tonight: Jessica volunteers to take care of Honey’s zuo yue zi (“sitting the month,” which I just learned is a thousand-year-old tradition). Her insistence on Honey’s taking it easy makes Honey suspicious, overheated, and wine-deprived. She has a feeling Jessica is compensating for something. Louis takes advantage of Jessica’s being at Honey’s house for a month by trying to bond with Evan, who’s much more interested in doing his own thing until Jessica returns home. His own thing includes reading Churchill: Lad to Legend. Eddie and Emery are inspired by Pumping Iron to get into bodybuilding, mostly because they “just want to get stronger than Grandma.”
I’m feelin’ all right: There’s something endearing about Jessica’s not knowing how to deal with (or talk about) the failure of her novel, A Case of a Knife to the Brain. She seems humbled in a way she’s completely unprepared to understand, and rather than lash out or muscle her will into being, she wanders. I love this Jessica, and Constance Wu does some wonderful acting in the scene where Honey calls her out. I also will not complain about any Honey-heavy episode that’s not baby-centric.
Eddie-Emery partnerships are almost always interesting, and Louis going too far while being focused on someone else is one of the best Louises.
Some lines I enjoyed: “I sleep on her failure every night” (Grandma). “There’s no such thing as quality time. There’s just time” (Jessica).
Gonna let it all hang out: I have no real complaints about this episode. Even Marvin is charming (especially when he says he’s hit his pre-baby weight: before Nicole, who’s 18). But this is the second episode of the season, so it’s apparent that there is no Roseanne joke coming. Come on, FOtB writers. The door is wide open for a very funny joke about Roseanne Connor throwing the Huangs under the boat and then finding herself written out of existence. It doesn’t have to be cruel; it can just be pointed.
FOB moment: I learned something about sitting the month. There’s also something cultural in “There’s no such thing as quality time; there’s just time,” right?
Soundtrack flashback: “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” by Shania Twain (1997).
Final grade, this episode: An altogether pleasant episode that doesn’t distinguish itself from the rest of the utterly competent episodes making up most of the corpus. B.