I think I first heard of this Xmas Without China documentary project via Kickstarter. The feature documentary takes place right before December of some recent year around the Christmas holiday in Arcadia, California, a neighborhood that used to be predominantly white, but is now half Asian.
Tom Xia, a Chinese-American immigrant who came to the U.S. with his parents when he was around 8 years old, seeks out a family to volunteer to go the many weeks before Christmas to live without as well as purchasing any Chinese products for the holidays. We follow the all American Jones family as they empty their home of Chinese-made products and try to live and prepare for the holidays without any Chinese products or gifts – and it is challenging, and some of their American economic and Chinese product safety concerns. In a juxtapose, we additionally learn a lot about Xia and his family, which is a story of living the American dream, coming from nothing to slowly building a successful higher-end Chinese jewelry and arts craft store and see the family move into their dream home.
I would say what resonated with me the most was Xia’s statement that when he was in the United States, he had to defend China, and in China, he had to defend the United States. This reminded me of the feeling that many Asian Americans like myself find ourselves when we never are more reminded that we are American than when we are in Asia, and often more Asian when are in American. Xia was born in China and we see him in his early twenties where although he carries a green card, he has yet become a U.S. citizen, though his parents have already naturalized. By the end of the film, we see Xia take the Pledge of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony as he becomes an American citizen.
Personally, as a Taiwanese American, my favorite brief moment was when the matriarch of the Jones families cheats a little when she puts back the Christmas stockings over the fireplace and says that it is okay since the stockings were “Made in Taiwan.”
I saw this documentary via a DVD screener, so I can’t comment on the questions that arose during Q&A. I’d say that I enjoyed the film overall, which is a little over an hour. Though I would say the documentary is more of a storyline that captures a snapshot of Americana of two different families more than a deep exploration of the growing interdependence of Americans love for inexpensive and affordable goods, with the Chinese’s willingness to manufacture and export them (sometimes of questionable working conditions, wages and quality and safety of goods).
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“A Woman Named Canyon Sam” is a testament to a woman who passionately committed herself to social change from a young age, chronicling her first coming out as a young Asian American lesbian in the seventies — one of the first “out” Asian American lesbians in North America — to publishing her award-winning 2009 book, Sky Train. “A Woman Named Canyon Sam” is now available to the world for free on Youtube.
At a run time of twelve minutes, “A Woman Named Canyon Sam” was inspired when Quentin first met Canyon at the reading of her book Sky Train: Tibetan Women on the Edge of History, winner of the PEN American Center Open Book Award.
Fascinated by Canyon’s multiple identities as a lesbian, an Asian American woman, a performance artist (“a master storyteller,” The Village Voice), an early gay rights activist turned human rights advocate and most recently an author, I decided to collaborate with Canyon on a documentary that began in June of 2009.
Successfully funded by Kickstarter and an entirely a project of passion, “A Woman Named Canyon Sam” first premiered at the Honolulu Rainbow Film Festival. It screened at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, the Hong Kong Independent Film Festival, and won the 2011 Panasonic Award for Best Documentary Short at the Asian Film Festival of Dallas.
“The seventies and eighties were a profoundly unique time in the history of social change movements — wildly full of change and the hope of even bigger change. We felt we were smashing social barriers every time we turned around. I’m deeply honored that Quentin has chosen to preserve a bit of those heady times through my experiences — his first documentary in many years of illustrious film making,” says Canyon Sam. “He skillfully framed the film during the promotional tour of my book, so it enjoys an immediate, contemporary feel too.”
I finally got to see Seeking Asian Female, the documentary film by San Francisco Bay Area-based director Debbie Lum. The film had debuted at South by South West (SXSW) last year and review by a fellow 8asians blogger Dino and has gotten a bit of press, including this nice interview with Lum on NPR last year.
However at CAAMFest 2013, this was the first opportunity I had to see the film with a live audience, which I very much wanted to do (instead of simply viewing a DVD screener). Note: this review contains spoilers.
A CAAMFest director noted that Seeking Asian Female was the second film at the festival to sell out after LINSANITY, the documentary film. I’m not surprised. Ever since my college days in the early days of the Internet on forums on USENET news, I recall the debates of “yellow fever.” The film’s Kickstarter page describes the documentary as:
“Seeking Asian Female is a feature-length personal documentary about the unlikely romance of Steven and Jianhua (a.k.a. “Sandy”) – an American man who is obsessed with marrying any Asian woman and the Chinese woman half his age who agrees over the Internet to be his fiancee. Debbie, a Chinese American filmmaker, documents with skepticism and humor, from the early stages of Steven’s search, through the moment Sandy steps foot in America for the first time, to a year into their precarious union…”
Lum’s initial intent was to explore why so many men (of all races, but primarily Caucasian/white men) had “yellow fever” – an interest in Asian women. In particular, the men she initially had interviewed had been American men who were interested in Asian women. However, Lum came across a twice-divorced man named Steven who had pursued interest in foreign Asian women overseas via dating and marriage sites on the Internet and his story was too good to be true that she decided to focus her film on Steven.
Steven was 60 years old with a son who had married an Asian woman, and had thought he’d might find happiness as well with an Asian woman. However, he was somewhat realistic that he did not offer a lot – he was old, not exactly in great shape, not very well-off living in a rented cramped and messy apartment, and had a dead end job being a parking toll collector at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Surprisingly, Steven was honest with his dating profiles online given his situation.
At times, the audience as well as myself laughed at how ridiculous Steven’s obsession with Asian women had become – with him showing Lum his past subscribing to printed mail order bride catalogs an receiving them via “snail mail,” and later showing past letters, photos and images on his computer of past women he had dated or corresponded with. Steven came across with an adolescent innocence and enthusiasm with somewhat unrealistic expectations in what he would find in an Asian wife – with his general life a mess (and certainly his messy, cramped, crowded and apartment a metaphor for his life.) Best of all, as Lum notes within the documentary, Steven had no verbal filter and one is often amazed with the words and thoughts he is expressing coming out of his mouth.
Steven eventually finds the woman of his dreams, “Sandy,” a short, cute Chinese woman in her early 30s who came from a remote village and migrated to Shenzen, China to initially work in a factory and eventually work her way up to an office job. Being in her 30s, Sandy by Chinese standards is considered an undesirable woman by most men in China. Lacking any higher education, Sandy felt her options were limited and that Steven seemed genuine, despite his shortcomings. Steven visits Sandy once in China and proposes shortly after being on the trip. However, Sandy is a bit unsure. Eventually, Sandy visits and stays with Steven for a 3-month marriage visa.
With Sandy’s English quite limited, there is a huge communications gap – as well as expectations on both sides, between Sandy and Steven. There are a lot of up-and-downs, with plenty of fights, and at times one is never too sure whether or not Sandy’s intentions of marrying Steven are ever genuine. Steven begins to realize that getting married is not the end, but just the beginning, as he knows he will have to change and adapt from being a lonely loner to having to be a provider as well as clean up himself and his life, wracked with financial issues, past due debts and unrealistic expectations of a wallflower wife serving his every need without question.
The film was entertaining and very funny at times, and I thought Lum’s role as translator and marriage counselor was especially intriguing. Lum is self-admittedly not all that fluent in Chinese, but given her limited fluency in Mandarin Chinese, she does a noble effort (certainly better than what I could do).
Sandy certainly surprised me with her sincere interest and love in Steven and certainly did not necessarily play to the stereotypical green card wife – where a foreign woman would marry an American to obtain citizenship, and once doing so, get a divorce. But Sandy was realistic and did express such thoughts as her fantasy hit reality, but self-determined not to return to China to “lose face.”
By the end of the film, we see that the happy couple has survived their one year together as a married couple. During the Q&A session, Lum reveals that since the documentary was finished, Steven and Sandy have been married now for four years (coming this August 2013) – which amused and amazed the audience. Truly, if a man like Steven can find love over these crazy circumstances, there is certainly a woman out there for all of us. To be honest, if I were Steven, there is no way in hell I’d have any filmmaker follow me around and present myself like Steven has presented himself. It would be really, really, really interesting to meet Steven and Sandy in real life to see how their life together has transpired since the film.
The Q&A was equally interesting and entertaining where Lum gave an update on Steven and Sandy, as well as some background around the shaping of the film as well as her future project related to Seeking Asian Female:
I really did enjoy this film, though I was hoping that perhaps Lum could have explored more deeply the topic of “yellow fever.” In particular, I am definitely interested more in the American (white) male interest in Asian American women (as well as often the case, Asian American women’s preference for white men, often the exclusion of Asian American men.)
Lum had mentioned in her Q&A that she did indeed have hundreds of hours of footage to explore the topic of “yellow fever” and is kicking off her web project entitled “They’re [Asian women] All So Beautiful” – http://www.seekingasianfemale.com/sobeautiful/ and http://www.theyreallsobeautiful.com/
They’re All So Beautiful is a six-part web series that takes the conversation started in Seeking Asian Female, to the web forums. Each of the episodes, directed by Debbie Lum and co-produced by Maikiko James, begins with a question designed to stimulate discussion on yellow fever and stereotypes about Asian women.
I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds during the web series, hopefully some thoughtful non-anonymous comments will be constructive on the topic.
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the following 90 minute panel discussion on the film moderated by Hyphen Magazine afterwards since the room was packed and I had to run off to another event.
I consider myself a professional Asian American, which means that I work in the “community.” There are positives and negatives that come with being a professional Asian American. The biggest negative is that people tend to rant at me about the state of Asian America and the worst part is they want me to agree with them. Well, I’m sick of being ranted at. It’s my turn to rant. This is my rant on Asian America right now:
Follow me on Twitter @ksakai1
One of the reasons why President Obama was able to get re-elected in November was his stance on immigration reform, and certainly the Republican Party learned its lessons as the Hispanic vote overwhelmingly supported Obama with over 71% of the vote. With the Hispanic electorate reaching for the first time ever 10% of the electorate, discussions of real immigration reform is being discussed in Congress with even Republican support. However, there has not been much reported from an Asian American perspective, despite the fact that our community is the fastest and largest immigrant group of the past decade.
Back in January, the National Asian American Survey released a study on Opinions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders: U.S. Immigration Policy. Some of their findings:
I’m not sure what accounts for the dramatic change in public opinion by Asians Americans for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and the report does not offer any theories. Perhaps just the greater awareness in the general media has informed and educated Asians Americans more about the issue. I had read somewhere but I am having a hard time finding the documented reference that approximately 15% of Asian immigrants in the United States are illegal.
Boystown is the working title for a proposed web series about 3 gay men, with the lead character being an Asian Canadian. The three lead actors are Richard Lee, Adamo Ruggiero, and Ben Lewis and the footage is from a short film called “Gaysian,” which is a comedy about a gay Asian man dealing with different forms of racism in the gay world, and even in himself.
Says Director/Writer Austin Wong:
There is an epidemic of racism against Asians in the gay community, and so I wrote/directed a short film about it called “Gaysian” for which I received funding from the Canadian BravoFact fund. The short outlines the issues facing an Asian gay man who either hears “No Asians” from gay men, or else is pursued by ‘rice queens’ who fetishize Asians, neither of which appeal to him. Directing the short film was positive experience, and so I am now trying to raise funding for a full web series that will continue to follow this Asian character, as there is little to no content which feature Asians in a lead role.
After catching the fantastic LINSANITY documentary film during the kickoff of CAAMFest 2013, I caught the two films Comrade Kim Goes Flying and High Tech, Low Life on Saturday night.
I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry? Then it’s not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That’s a good thing, but one mustn’t make a virtue of it, or a profession…Insofar as I love life, I love the hills of the Domain of Estre, but that sort of love does not have a boundary-line of hate. ― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
Culture is like water in a river flowing, and as we can infer, you can’t step into the same river twice. Take a glass of river water, throw it in another river, run out and grab it, then throw it back into the first river, and you will find several differences. The first is, no matter how much you try, you can’t throw the glass back into the exact same spot you filled it up with the first time due to the flow of the river. Secondly, something is taken from the second river, even if you keep the glass perfectly sealed and wipe it all off, it is still different than when it was first taken out. Lastly, not only does the water in the glass change from being plucked out of the streams twice, but it has also brought something fundamentally different that was never there before into each river, and therefore, the glass changes, and also brings some small change to the the rivers themselves.
This is based off of the theory of marginal survivals: culture exists in time, and a Chinese immigrant who came for the Gold Rush in the 19th century is different from the Chinese who came during World War II, the 1970s, and the early 2000s. They each share a cultural history up to the point they left China: culture is perpetually in motion, like a river, and when they left in the 19th century, they did not have a chance to absorb what society imparted to those who remained, much like an American who grew up in the Roaring Twenties is different from someone who grew up in the 1950s. Technology, laws, values, circumstances, and opportunities are all different with each generation, and when one repatriates to their land of ancestry, they will find two things have changed: their home is no longer the same because the flow of time and culture has gone on without them, and that they themselves have changed too.
Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another. ― Carl Sagan, Cosmos
This means that looking back is difficult, so the logical conclusion is that we must instead look forward. Another implication here is the new face of migration in our ever-globalizing world: there are less community ties by geography, and more by values like honor–which is why race is a weak tie since we can all have similar faces, but if our hearts and minds are elsewhere, there is no bond.
Take the new type of person and identity that has arisen from diaspora around the world: Third Culture Kids. I am one of them, having been born in the U.S., raised in the West and East Coast; Midwest, Toronto, Canada, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Thailand, and lived and worked in many more countries. If anyone wonders what it feels like to be pan-Asian, I feel that each country and the various cultures that exist within their borders are all what have shaped me, from what I have seen, the people I have talked to in their own language, the food I have eaten, the values and behaviors they have, and stories they tell.
Your own acts tell the world who you are and what kind of society you think it should be. ― Ai WeiWei
It is from these experiences that my perspectives and reference points tend to be unorthodox; that when someone tells me what culture is in places like the Philippines or Thailand, or talk about white privilege in Asia, I am unsure how to respond because often, those are the people who have not only never left America, but never left their hometown. As such, I have never considered myself an immigrant to America, but an expat, for America to me is both a place and a set of values that compel me to fight for my individual freedom, to express myself without restraint, and aspire to greatness, even outside of America, for there is a great world out there, and I can not for the life of me see myself living only in America. With Asian America, however, there is special meaning for me from its art: from Kajukenbo to taiko to fusion foods, it denotes cultural transformation, and in turn, personal transformation. Third Culture Kids are rapidly becoming the new normal too, as migration propels people around the world, in search of opportunities and as globalization requires more travel for work thanks to multinational businesses and changing geopolitical borders.
After catching the fantastic LINSANITY documentary film during the kickoff of CAAMFest 2013, I caught the two films Comrade Kim Goes Flying on Saturday night.
From Time: “A 15-year-old high schooler, only identified by his surname Choi, jumped out of his apartment home in the southeastern city of Gyeongsan last Monday after being bullied for roughly two years. His death — the second youth suicide in South Korea this month — has shocked the nation and called into question the government’s efforts to stop school violence.” South Korea is known for its high suicide rates especially among young people. It is about time the government intentionally pursues obvious causes like bullying, and hopefully initiates some real change not only in the educational sphere but in wider society concerning family relationships and dealing with judgment and pressure.
Many cultural identities are not discernible from appearance. Because all of us belong to many different groups, choosing generalizations linked to one apparent identity as a basis for relating is presumptuous. We know that cultural influences are variously salient in different situations and that the influences themselves shift and change over time. ― Michelle LeBaron, Bridging Cultural Conflicts
There is a necessity to bind Asian America by ideals and a tangible goal worth pursuing rather than strictly by race. For one, Asian America is diverse, not in terms of race and the many cultural groups people are descended from, but within America itself. Much of what is written about Asian America is centered around California, as many of the loudest voices come from Southern California, especially with a huge concentration of the population in California. This does not give a good sampling, for the culture of Asian-Americans living in the Midwest and various East Coast states is notably different, if my times living in Indiana, New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island are any indicators. Revision: And often, the popular voice is not the best representative of the experiences of many Asian-Americans.
To recall what is distinctly a product of Asian America’s culture, it is difficult to name three things for most people, so I will identify three from my own experiences: fortune cookies, Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do martial arts style (and Hawaii’s Kajukenbo), and taiko drumming.
For fortune cookies, there are claims from both Japanese-Americans and Chinese-Americans as to who invented them, but the end result is that it became American, if not Americana, and remain popularly associated with Chinese-Americans.
Both Jeet Kune Do and Kajukenbo came from an amalgamation of multiple martial arts styles that became distinctly their own, functioning as both a philosophy and series of techniques–very much along the lines of what makes the fusion of cultures in America not bits and pieces from everywhere, but as America’s own distinct brand and identity.
Lastly, taiko, upon its introduction to America by Seiichi Tanaka in 1968, transformed in America due to its use with Western ensemble-style arrangement as opposed to the traditional uses, which in turn led to something that is truly a magical piece of culture transformed by the American cultural landscape into something wonderful, and popular too with TAIKOPROJECT appearing in mainstream films and commercials. My days with the collegiate teams Yukai, Kyodo, Asayake, and with Tanaka himself in the San Francisco Taiko Dojo are all what revealed to me that there is indeed hope and something distinct about Asian America, that is not lost while the popular voice is focused on discrimination and representation, rather than giving attention to what we create through transformation in America.
New York City comptroller John Liu announced recently that he is running for mayor, which is not a surprise, since he has always seemed to have openly expressed his ambitions for higher office. As the first Asian American to be elected to city-wide office, it’s no surprise that Liu has such ambitions. He’s currently in 4th place according to Democratic polls.
The major issue overshadowing Liu’s bid for mayor is a federal investigtaions of some of his close associates:
“Virtually every question was about the federal investigation into his fund-raising. On April 15, two associates, including his former treasurer, are scheduled to stand trial on fraud charges. And though Mr. Liu, 46, has not been accused of wrongdoing, court documents have left little doubt that prosecutors have questioned his conduct. On Sunday, Mr. Liu maintained his defiant posture, saying, “People have said there’s a witch hunt; the problem is, there’s no witch.”
Something that 8asians has questioned and blogged about. I’ve never met John Liu nor follow New York City politics nor Liu that closely, so I can’t say I have an informed opinion on this. But in general, I am tired of the stereotype that Asian American politicians are corrupt fundraisers that was fostered by some real incidents in the 1996 campaign by a few bad apples.
After San Francisco and Oakland electing their first Asian American mayors, I think it would be great if an Asian American were elected mayor of New York City; whether that is John Liu or not is for New York City to decide.