One common theme that has been echoing in some of the documentaries presented in Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival is that mix-raced Asians either in the states or in an Asian country, or Asian immigrants are trying to find out who they are and what country they represent. The identity searching is a ever-green theme in the Asian American community which has 60 percent first-generation immigrants and the largest percentage of interracial marriage.
In the documentary Hafu, it explored the life of mix-raced Japanese in Japan. The film showed that about 2 million foreigners were living in Japan in 2010, constituting around 30,000 international marriages. Children from these marriages are called Hafu, a Japanese word evolved from the English word “half,” indicating half Japanese and half foreigner.
Japan strictly upholds the ideology of “one nation, one culture, one race.” It outcasts the mix-raced Japanese, who grew up there and speak the language perfectly. The film has profiled different mix-raced Japanese from all kinds of racial combination, background, age and both genders. It provides a deep and well-rounded view about the struggle they have and the questions they raise about their country and themselves. All of their stories are revolving around one question–“Who am I?”
David Mitsuaki Yano, one of the many Hafus depicted in the film, believes that he is Japanese despite of his half Ghanaian heritage. He moved to Japan at age 6, and then grew up in an orphanage with his brothers due to the divorce of his parents. During his fundraising to build schools in Ghana, he got to know more about his Ghanaian roots, and determined to be the connection of both cultures. Alex, a 9-year-old Hafu with the other half from Mexico, has his story of being bullied and picked on at school. Growing up speaking English, Spanish and Japanese, the little boy found the Japanese lessons hard in class. His life changed when his parents transferred him to an international school where he started to make friends who are also Hafus like him.
The film took the audience up close to the personal strugglse and sometimes depression of these Hafus. But in the end, it’s delightful to see that many of them seem to find their definitions of who they are and decide to raise the multicultural awareness in Japan.
Xmas Without China is another documentary in the film fest that is about finding one’s cultural identity, and this one happens to be the producer Tom Xia. He started a challenge with an American family after hearing all the news about bad Chinese products. The challenge was to spend a Christmas season without buying or using anything made in China. The Jonese family accepted his challenge and spent a miserable Christmas without any Chinese product.
The film is less about the challenge but more about the mutual understanding of both cultures and how Chinese-Americans see themselves as Chinese and American, especially when Americans are criticizing Chinese people. It provided a comparison of how Xia’s immigrant family spent their Christmas to the Jonese without Chinese products. Xia’s father built a big new house after working his whole life in the states, and wanted to build a big Christmas tree. The house is a symbol for his success in the U.S. and his American dream. Xia constantly compared their Christmas with the Chinese New Year and how it was like to spend a holiday with family members like grandparents, aunts and uncles. Xia told his mother when they were watching a family video of his grandfather in China, “We have a big house here, but it’s so empty.”
The Jonese were suffering from having no light to making light from ridiculous expensive materials made in the U.S. At the beginning, the Jonese were like many other Americans who were fearful of the Chinese products and the growing Chinese power that might one day take over the U.S. Through the interaction with Xia, they learned more about China and Chinese families in the U.S., and their attitude gradually changed from hostility to understanding.
A thought-provoking scene is when the Jonese questioned about Xia’s motive of the challenge and put him on the spot, asking if he was an American citizen. Xia, then a green-card holder, lied about his citizenship. He said he didn’t know why he did that. He loves his Chinese roots, but also his American life. Later he seemed to find peace with his multi-cultural self. He told the Jonese that he would always defend the U.S. in China, and China in the U.S.