The Denver area used to have an Asian Film Festival held in Aurora; Erin and I loved attending it. It attracted a loyal core audience of film lovers of all ethnicities. But our Asian communities didn't support the festival as much as they needed to.
Unfortunately, the programming was too cautious, because the Denver Film Society, the folks who bring us the annual Starz Denver Film Festival (which starts this week), had to get approval from various groups. And, the various groups would turn down any movie that might show their homeland in a light they didn't like (such as showing sex and violence, or a negative image of the country). During the festival, each community attended their movies but didn't show much interest in movies from other countries.
Erin and I would see Japanese at the Japanese movies but not Chinese, or Filipino, or Vietnamese movies. We'd run into Chinese friends at Chinese movies, and so on. In the end, the festival couldn't generate enough interest across all Asian communities, in addition to non-Asian movie fans, to keep going.
So I watch wistfully as I get emails and Facebook event invites or a plethora of Asian and Asian American Pacific Islander film festival across the country -- Philadelphia, New York, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco. Tonight I got an email from a blogging pal, Slanty of Slant Eye for the Round Eye, about the first-ever Asian Film Festival in his hometown of Minneapolis/St. Paul. So even the Twin Cities, land of chill and Prince and the Replacements and Prairie Home Companion, land of a significant Hmong community, and land of Slanty (who wrote about the festival last week), has an Asian film festival.
The Minneapolis-St. Paul Asian Film Festival, which has the tagline "In Search of Asia," opens tomorrow with "That Girl In Yellow Boots," an Indian film (photo above). Here's a description:
The media are reporting on how Muslim Americans are braced for attacks this weekend, because of the 9/11 anniversary. I know what that's like, unfortunately, though not on the scale of violence and hatred Muslims are facing today.
It's a sad commentary on the state of American "patriotism" that Japanese Americans still get nervous every December 7 because we grew up with racial slurs of "go home, Japs" and "Remember Pearl Harbor!"
Such are the deep emotional scars that form after a national trauma, and ethnicity and religion add layers of fear and complexity. It's understandable in a way, but also unjust -- Japanese Americans had nothing to do with Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor any more than German Americans had to do with the blitzkrieg of London. And Muslim Americans certainly had nothing to do with the awful attacks of 9/11. It's too bad that so many Americans can't understand such a basic fact and separate nationality from ethnicity, faith from fanaticism.
These schisms are bouncing around my head along with the powerful writing of author Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, whose terrific second book, "Hiroshima in the Morning" has just been published by the Feminist Press.
The book on its surface is a simple idea: A memoir of Rizzuto's 2001 trip to Japan, paid for by a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts to research the stories of Hiroshima bomb survivors, a group that shrinks each year as the generation passes away, in the city where her own family roots are planted. Rizzuto lived there for eight months to find people to interview, so she could write her second novel.
Instead, she came out of the experience with her life changed profoundly, and this memoir came first before the novel, which is finished but incubating a bit before she sends it to editors under the name "Shadow Child."
Until the novel comes out, readers can devour "Hiroshima in the Morning" and marvel at Rizzuto's craft and literary approach to telling non-fiction stories, as well as her brave willingness to expose the emotional evolution she undertakes by the end of her fellowship.
Her ability to write literature as if it were non-fiction is what set Rizzuto's first novel, "Why She Left Us," which won the American Book Award upon its release in 2001, apart from other books based on the Japanese American internment.
Rizzuto, who is half-Japanese, based that first book in part on her mother's experience of being interned at Camp Amache in Colorado during World War II. But she interviewed many former internees to collect observations, details, relationships, experiences and story lines that she wove together into fiction that rang with the power of truth.
She wrote the novel in the different perspectives and voices of its main characters, and jumped through time and space in ways that masterfully held the reader on track, following the devastating legacy of internment on generations of one family. It was unorthodox, artsy and literary, and a riveting read.
I look forward to seeing how she uses the research in Hiroshima as fuel for her fiction, especially after reading "Hiroshima in the Morning."
Erin and I took a summer hiatus, but visualizAsian.com is back, and proud to kick off a new season of interviews with a conversation with Iranian-Japanese American journalist Roxana Saberi, whose recent book, "Between Two Worlds," chronicles the harrowing experience of being imprisoned, charged with espionage and sentenced to eight years in a notorious Iranian prison before being released after five months in May 2009.
We'll be talking to Roxana on Tuesday, August 31 at 6 pm PT (9 pm ET) via phone and web --You've missed the live interview, but for a limited time, you can still join in the conversation by registering and listening to the archived MP3 recording..
Roxana recently spoke about her ordeal at the annual convention of the Asian American Journalists Association, and I sat in on the panel.
She captivated the audience with her story of choosing to be a journalist in a dangerous political hotspot, of her unexpected capture and fear and frustration at her situation, the flashes of humane treatment she received from some of her guards, and even the humorous moments (in hindsight) over her efforts to give surreptitious messages to her boyfriend and family.
She captures all of this and more in compelling prose in "Between Two World," and she'll be reading passages from it during our conversation.
Emperor Hirohito of Japan gave an unprecedented radio address at noon 65 years ago today, on August 15, 1945, to announce that Japan would surrender unconditionally to the United States and the allied powers.
The Victory over Japan Day, or VJ Day, officially ended World War II on September 2 1945 when Japan signed the documents of surrender aboard the USS Missouri, and ushered in an era of incredible prosperity for Americans, even though more wars, in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan, would prevent peace in the decades to come.
The end of WWII is justly celebrated as the close to a violent, though heroic, chapter in our history. But our perspective often blocks empathy for the perspective of the vanquished, as with our ignorance of August 6 and 9, 1945, the anniversary of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that led to the August 15 announcement by Emperor Hirohito urging Japanese to "bear the unbearable" and accept the country's surrender.
Except for the elderly veterans and American civilians who served in the Occupation Forces under General Douglas MacArthur, there isn't much awareness of what Japan was like in the months and years after the war. The Occupation lasted until 1952, thr brink of the Koraen war.
But, I would guess that many Americans don't have any awareness of Japan until the 1964 Olympics, which were held in Tokyo, and which heralded the arrival of Japan as a world power that, by the 1980s, rivaled the U.S. economy.
That's why I'm so fascinated by the postwar era in Japan -- it's a hazy, forgotten time. I was born during that era, in Tokyo in 1957, and lived in two worlds -- attending school on U.S. military bases and living in Japanese civilian neighborhoods until the mid-1960s, when my family moved Stateside.
For Japanese, the end of the war is remembered vividly for the atomic bombings and the utter poverty the country was left in by its military leadership. Even before the atomic bombs, its majors cities had been firebombed for months by U.S. bombers. In one night of bombings in Tokyo, almost as many people were killed as by the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and great swaths of Tokyo had been leveled.
It's hard to imagine the scale of death and destruction that modern warfare can inflict on a country and its people. That's why, in spite of a stubborn nationalistic streak that leads to some Japanese still thinking like the country did in the 1930s and '40s, and claiming atrocities such as the Nanjing Massacre (where hundreds of thousands of civilians were reportedly murdered by invading Japanese troops) never happened, most Japanese are strongly anti-war and against nuclear weapons. They don't want the world to forget.
But there's a forgotten history, even for the Japanese.
Chalk this up in the victory column. Sometimes, just pointing out something that's offensive can make a difference. Earlier this week, Asian American bloggers like 8Asians (where I borrowed the great graphic) and Slant Eye for the Round Eye, among others, pointed out that the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, or MARTA, had named a train line that runs...
It's amazing how many coats and jackets a family can accumulate over the years, and how many are left hanging in the closet, hardly ever worn. This week, I took a bunch of coats to the Asian Pacific Development Center to be distributed to one of Denver's newest immigrant communities, the Burmese.
The APDC is a non-profit that offers health and social services to the local Asian communities, and Erin serves its the board of directors. The APDC conducted a food and goods drive for the Burmese over the holiday season, and is still accepting donations at its three locations: 1544 Elmira Street in Aurora, 1825 York Street in Denver and 6055 Lehman Drive, Suite 103 in Colorado Springs. Last summer, the APDC helped collect donated school supplies for students from both the Burmese and another Asian immigrant community, the Bhutanese.
Because many Asian communities have been in the U.S. for two, three or even four or more generations and we've assimilated into American society, it's easy to forget that there are recent immigrants from Asia who are not as fortunate as those of us from Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea and other countries, whose families came here to seek better opportunities. In the case of the Burmese, and also the Bhutanese, another recent Asian immigrant group, they've arrived in America as refugees, like the waves of Vietnamese, Laotians and Hmong in the 1980s and '90s.
The Bhutanese and Burmese refugees fled an oppressive regime or have been resettled from refugee camps across the globe.
But unfortunately, once here, they're facing more oppression: In the past year, both Bhutanese and Burmese students were singled out and attacked in the Denver area. The first attacks were reported last spring; on December 11, a group of Bhutanese students were beaten and robbed after getting off a bus and one required emergency room treatment. The Denver Police Department distributed special cell phones to Bhutanese that are set to dial 911 in case of future attacks, but the community understandably would prefer the violence just stop. In the Denver Post story following the attacks, one Bhutanese refugee said:
"If they kill me and my son, what will my daughter and wife do?" said Dambar Bhujel, father of an 18-year-old victim, who is now wary of letting his son go to school.
"At first, I was happy to come to the United States. After one year, I'm feeling very bad and I don't want to stay longer. But we can't go back to Bhutan and we can't go back to Nepal," Bhujel said. "They told us America was secure."
I know I spend a lot of posts writing about the ongoing racism and stereotypes that Asians face in the United States. That's my passion, and it's important to me. But I'm also aware that racism exists all over the world. At its worst, that's why genocide still goes on, after all. And, I'm sad to say, racism is rife in Asia, even (especially?) in Japan, the country of my birth and family roots. It's a tribal instinct to separate people by ethnicity, and we just have to constantly work at rising above those instincts in the 21st century, when we live in a much smaller and much more intertwined world.
My mother, who was born in Japan and moved to the U.S. in the mid-1960s with my two brothers and I when my father (himself Japanese but born in Hawai'i) was transferred stateside for his federal government job, is about as old-fashioned as they come. She's been in the U.S. for over 40 years, but she's still FOBish ("Fresh Off the Boat") in a lot of her values, even today. When I called my parents to announce that my first wife -- who was European American -- and I were going to get a divorce, her first comment wasn't anything sympathetic. She said bluntly, "See? I told you you should marry Japanese."
Thanks mom, for the support.
So I was saddened but not exactly surprised to follow the controversy in China over Lou Jing, the Shanghai-born college student who's shown in the video above, singing on "Go! Oriental Angel," China's version of "American Idol." Lou (pronounced "LOH") is mixed-race. Her mother is Chinese and her father, whom she's never met, was African American. She's a beautiful young woman, and a talented singer (her favorite performer is Beyonce). That's a picture of Lou with her mother on the TV show, above.
But she's such an unusual sight in China that the TV show labeled her "Black Pearl" and "Chocolate Girl," and the media picked up on her inclusion in the show and made her a national racial sideshow. In a cultural switch from the "You speak such good English" line that Asian Americans get in the U.S., she's grown up hearing people ask how she can speak such good Chinese. "Because I'm Chinese" is her answer, of course.
Following her appearances on the TV show, the Chinese blogosphere became filled with hateful comments aimed at both mother and daughter, venting outrage that her mother would have sex with a black man and calling Lou all manner of names and telling her to leave China (she will if she gets her wish for post-graduate study in the U.S.).
There are a lot of different ethnic groups in China, and they don't all get along, as witnessed by the recent violence between ethnic Uighurs and Han in western China. But the majority of Chinese -- 90% -- are descended from the Han race. Although some Chinese are tolerant, many apparently are not.
CNN has a good video report with accompanying text about the racial issues that Lou Jing has sparked in China. Here's a video of Lou performing on "Go! Oriental Angel":
I should just shake my head and mutter, "Kids these days, what were they thinking." But I have deeper feelings than that, and I'm terribly saddened by the ongoing news coverage out of Japan, where four teen-aged dependents of U.S. military personnel were arrested over the weekend for attempted murder.
The three boys and a girl, aged 15 to 18, are charged with an August attack in Tokyo, when a woman was knocked off her motorbike when she ran into a rope that had been tied across the road, and fractured her skull and broke her neck, leaving her hospitalized for three months.
The rope was moved from its position across the driveway entrance to a business, and re-tied to a post across the road. The graphic above from the Yomiuri Shimbun, one of Japan's huge national daily newspapers, illustrates what happened.
After the woman crashed, one of the assailants reportedly flagged down a passing motorist and asked the person to call for an ambulance, then the attackers fled the scene.Police questioned the teens after viewing footage from a nearby security camera. The arrests came Saturday, aftr negotiating with U.S. officials. Two of the teens live on Yokota Air Base, an American Air Force facility, close by in Tokyo; the other two live off-base with their families.
This attack, or prank, or stupid act, whatever it turns out to be, if it was committed by teenagers, would make the news in the U.S., but it's especially grabbing attention in Japan because there's an ongoing debate within that country about the need for, and level of, U.S. military presence there.
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