Lisa Ko’s debut novel, The Leavers, follows a mother and son separated by immigration agents, borders, and new families. Deming Guo wakes up one day in the Bronx to find that his mother Polly has disappeared. Soon, he is Daniel Wilkinson of upstate New York. We follow Daniel as he struggles through high school, the emotional turmoil of his mom’s abrupt departure, makes a friend who isn’t white, makes a friend who was adopted from China (same but different), and graduates high school. Until he learns some information about his mom’s whereabouts.
The novel flits back and forth between Daniel’s story and Polly’s, told from her own perspective. But while we follow Daniel’s story more or less linearly, Polly’s unfolds more circuitously. From her present life in China married to a successful businessman who doesn’t know she ever had a son, we follow Polly’s life backwards and around: Days raising Deming in the Bronx to her life as a child in China, to the terrifying series of events that led to her forced separation from her son unfolding in the very last pages.
This is a story about family, about bonds that are broken and reforged. About immigration and injustice. About forgiveness and moving forward. Who are the people who live in between and how will they find their way? Lisa Ko’s two protagonists are deeply human, flawed and enticing, shaped by circumstances often beyond their control, yet seemingly fully aware of the choices they make. In the end, Polly and Deming search for themselves, in each other and in constant turmoil over what kind of life to lead. Parts of The Leavers are truly gripping, stunning in their storytelling arc, in other places, a bit slow, but overall, Ko offers an interesting arc and a truth about our current time.
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Back in July, I was able to attend Politicon (think of it as Comic-Con for political geeks) in Pasadena, California. This was the third year it was being held – I had first learned about it last year, but had planned on going to the Democratic National Convention (which I did), so didn’t make any plans to attend. This year, I wanted to check the 2-day event out, especially after reading about this panel: Asian American Pacific Islanders: Crucial Vote in Swing States:
“Asian Americans could make up the margin of victory in almost every swing state, and they have more business and consumer economic power than any other minority group. But what are their politics? And why are no politicians trying to court them? This panel looks at how to reach these enigmatic voters. Moderator: Richard Lui Panelists: Bill Wong, Hon. Judy Chu, Lou Diamond Phillips, Steven Olikara.”
I’ve met Richard Lui and Congresswoman Judy Chu, but hadn’t met or heard of Bill Wong or Steven Olikara. And to be honest, I hadn’t realized (or maybe forgotten) that actor, producer & activist Lou Diamond Phillips was an Asian American (“He was born in the Philippines and numbers among his ethnic extractions Filipino,Cherokee Indian, Scottish-Irish, Hawaiian and Hispanic blood.”) – he’s made his racial ambiguity play to his advantage and has played different ethnicities in his acting career (I most remember him from the movie, Stand and Deliver).
Panelist Steven Olikara did note that the room was full of Asian Americans, but to be honest, given that the attendance of Politicon 2017 was estimated to be around 10,000 people, that panel room maybe 200 hundred Asian Americans. Relative to those who attended and also the population of Greater Los Angeles, which is approximately 11% of the population), I was again disappointed.
I was most interested to see and hear Congresswoman Chu speak:
There was a lot more the panelists had to say, but if you’re interested, you can take a look for yourself in the YouTube video.
Overall, it’s is exciting to see more Asian Americans getting involved in politics. But I think there could be so much more involved than we are today. But my frustration must be tempered with the demographic realities that most Asian Americans (something like over 70%) were born outside of the United States, and that many immigrated to the U.S. in the past two decades.
I caught this recent Bounce commercial:
“If only Harry used some Bounce to dry, he would be less wrinkly and winning at life. Toss wrinkles, static, lint, and pet hair goodbye.”
This businessman is pitching something to a group of humorless groups of Asians, which I assume are foreigners (since in the U.S., it would be unlikely for a group of Americans on a team to be all Asian Americans). Of course, his pitch would be better if he didn’t have a wrinkled shirt on.
Personally, I just like the parodied song.
Of course, in the alternative universe, the guy’s pitch is going great now that he has a non-wrinkled shirt on. I guess there is only so much creativity you can have for a fabric softener ….
So what do Asian Americans watch on TV? USA Today analyzed Nielsen data for most of the first half of 2017 and came up with the data shown above. I was personally was surprised that it was so divergent compared to other major American ethnic groups. America’s Got Talent as the most popular Asian American show? Really? Why so different?
The article mentions possible causes for the differences, such as Asian Americans averaging less than 15 hours a TV viewing a week compared to African Americans who averaged 44 hours. I wonder about the effects of cord cutting and online only shows on Amazon Prime or Netflix. My kids and I hardly watch ever TV series, cable or broadcast, with TV watching usually restricted to sports and for me, Game of Thrones. The Daughter in particular likes a few online only shows. Since I couldn’t find the actual data from Nielsen that went into this, it’s really hard to say for sure.
That there are differences is revealing in itself, saying that ethnic groups in the US really do have differences in preferences and tastes. I would have like to seen more data, particularly on the viewing hours. 44 hours vs 15 hours is a vast difference. It would be interesting to see it broken down by income levels – do wealthy people watch as much TV and the same shows as middle class or poor Americans? I suspect that advertisers have already done that kind of study.
Twenty thousand people every year visit Shingō Village in the Aomori Prefecture (referred to as: Kirisuto no Sato or “Hometown of Christ” by locals) that claims that Jesus visited Japan during his lost years and then returned after escaping crucifixion by having his brother take his place on the cross, making his way to Shingō where he became a garlic farmer, married a local woman, and had three children.
Today, in Shingō, you can visit Jesus’ alleged grave site and museum. Next to Jesus’ mound is another mound where Jesus’ brother’s ear is buried along with a lock of hair from Mary—both of which, according to the legend, he carried with him when he fled execution.
Just in case that’s hard to read:
When Jesus Christ was 21 years old, he came to Japan and pursued knowledge of divinity for 12 years. He went back to Judea at age 33 and engaged in his mission. However, at that time, people in Judea would not accept Christ’s preaching. Instead, they arrested him and tried to crucify him on a cross. His younger brother, Isukiri casually took Christ’s place and ended his life on the cross.
Christ, who escaped the crucifixion, went through the ups and downs of travel, and again came to Japan. He settled right here in what is now called Herai Village, and died at the age of 106.
On this holy ground, there is dedicated a burial mound on the right to deify Christ, and a grave on the left to deify Isukiri.
The above description was given in a testament by Jesus Christ.
Sound ridiculous? That’s because it is. Especially when you consider the fact that only one percent of people in Japan identify as Christian. But let’s pretend for a moment that there is something actually to this whole thing. How do people know Jesus visited Japan and then later died there? According to the legend, in 1935, Jesus’ last will and testament was found, which proved that he had not only been in Japan but died there. The document was “coincidentally” burned during World War II, but “luckily” someone had made copies.
What’s the proof that Jesus was actually in Shingō? Here is the “evidence” that is often cited:
It has been pointed out that some of the traditional clothing of the region included toga-like robes worn by men that were unlike other Japanese clothing, as well as veils worn by women, all of which seem more like something from biblical Palestine than Japan. In addition, some of the ancient traditions of the area included other things that are considered to be decidedly non-Japanese, such as carrying babies in woven baskets, wrapping them in robes embroidered with something akin to the Star of David, and marking their foreheads with crosses of charcoal. Even the regional dialect is said to have connections to the Holy Land, with some words resembling Hebrew more than Japanese. Even the name of the village itself was once Herai, which is remarkably similar to the Japanese word for Hebrew, Heburai. On top of all of this, it was once said that many of the villagers had decidedly foreign looking facial features and even blue eyes- let’s ignore that Jesus most certainly did not have blue eyes- that were seen to be a sign that they were descended from someone of non-Japanese origin. (Source)
My favorite part of the myth is Jesus’ supposed decedents have not let the fact that they are related to arguably the most important person to ever walk our planet get to their heads. In fact, a reporter asked one of them if they were going to do anything for Christmas and this was their answer:
“I’m not really planning anything at all for the 25th as it doesn’t really matter to us,” said 52-year-old Mr Sawaguchi. “I know I am descended from Jesus but as a Buddhist it’s just not all that important.” (Source)
Thankfully, it appears that most people in the village don’t actually believe any of this. They seem to mostly want to play along because it brings tourists—from I imagine all over the world—to a small village no one would visit otherwise and spend money at the museum gift shop.
“We’re not saying that the story is true or what is written in the Bible is wrong,” a village official told the BBC. “All we are saying is that this is a very interesting old legend. It’s up to the people who come here to decide how they interpret it.” (Source)
Are you interested in visiting Kirisuto no Sato? It’s apparently quite a commute from Tokyo. For specifics, check out CNN’s Travel article.
What do you think? Any chance Jesus didn’t die on the cross and ended up in Japan as a garlic farmer instead?
Vanessa Hua’s debut collection of short stories, Deceit and Other Possibilities, guides readers through a “deceit” to provide a compelling portrait of human nature. The spotlight falls on a range of individuals, a Hong Kong celebrity, a Korean American pastor, a Mexican American learning an unorthodox trade from his father. Not about spies nor lies precisely, each story is a portrait of a life — choices that unravel to reveal who we are against who we want to be against who we are expected to be. Lessons learned, mistakenly or rightfully.
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