Monday, June 16, 2014

the 20-year gap.

From All-American Girl to Fresh Off the Boat.
In the 20 years between Margaret Cho's All-American Girl and the announcement that ABC has picked up Fresh Off the Boat, there's been an influx of content created by Asian Americans on new media platforms. When ABC cancelled All-American Girl, there was the implication that putting an Asian-American family on network television just wasn't going to work. "It was an idea that was good, but it didn't execute well," 8Asians blogger and co-editor Joz Wang told me over the phone last week. "Nobody wanted to touch the subject again. Why else would it have taken 20 years [for Fresh Off the Boat to happen]?"

Joz has a point: the sharp criticisms from inside and outside of the Asian-American community contributed to the downfall of All-American Girl, and the show never got a chance to fix what went wrong.

And yet, the hunger to see more Asian Americans on the small screen never went away--a desire amplified by the rise of YouTubers from comedian Ryan Higa to beauty vlogger Michelle Phan. According to a 2011 New York Times article, three of the top 20 most-subscribed-to YouTube channels belonged to Asian Americans. One look at the documentary Uploaded: The Asian American Movement, and you'll see exactly what's going on: without a space at the "mainstream media" table, a new generation of artists went to another table that was created with the goal in mind of reaching audiences directly--audiences that might not go to the movies often or subscribe to cable television. Content creators on YouTube get to stay in control of the product they put online, and that's undoubtedly appealing for the Asian-American community.

In 2012, Wong Fu Productions premiered a four-episode TV series on YouTube called Home is Where the Hans Are in which a Caucasian guy comes home after an extended period abroad to meet his new stepfamily, who turns out to be Chinese.

the way I see it: 'everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.'

Confrontation is never easy. Some people say they're confrontational by nature, but when the going gets tough, they're the first ones off the boat. Recently, I confronted a friend over something that was bothering me. She's always painted herself as a confrontational person herself, so I figured, "Let'sdo this, let's hash it out." She responded by cutting me out of her life and accusing me of being someone I'm not. Her judgement that my life was perfect and that I made her feel insecure was hard to hear, and we haven't really spoken since. In typical "water off a duck's back" fashion, I've been courteous and kind to her, messaging her occasionally and forwarding emails with fun summery things, but she's made it pretty clear she's not interested in being too friendly anymore.

There's this Plato quote that gets shared all over Pinterest and Tumblr all the time: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." 

I think we all say things we regret from time-to-time, and real friends know when to take a breath, spend a day or two cooling off, and then pick things back up with the understanding and the knowledge that they've hurt one another and they'll do better--because a friendship is worth more than one's pride and ego. You can still be close to someone you've fought with. Fighting doesn't mean it's all over.

But when you prioritize your pride over a friend, you lose something important: not just that friend, but something inside yourself as well. Remember that Boy Meets World episode where the gang gets into a prank war and then fights over who "belongs" in what group? And then the fighting drags on and the episode flash forwards into the future, where everyone is still fighting and hasn't spoken in years, but then Eric shows up at their college reunion and reads his manifesto: "Lose one friend, lose all friends, lose yourself." When asked why he didn't write anything else but that, he responds, "Because nothing else seemed important."

You can stand in the midst of a storm and declare you are stronger than the pain coming your way, but shouldn't you want someone to celebrate it with when it's over? I don't believe we are meant to walk through this life alone. I crave that others believe the same.

Monday, June 2, 2014

'tomorrow's world is yours to build.'

“Remember that consciousness is power. Consciousness is education and knowledge. Consciousness is becoming aware. It is the perfect vehicle for students. Consciousness-raising is pertinent for power, and be sure that power will not be abusively used, but used for building trust and goodwill domestically and internationally. Tomorrow’s world is yours to build.” -Yuri Kochiyama, "Consciousness is Power" (Nov. 3, 1995)

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via 18 Million Rising
I wonder if it is the American education system that fails us, sometimes, or if it's our own lack of curiosity for the things we aren't being told. In grade school, I never learned about the Asian-American civil rights leaders who helped shape this country; but in high school, I was introduced to one.

In Howard Zinn's Voices of a People's History of the United States, I came across Yuri Kochiyama's essay "Then Came the War." I read it, not as an assignment, but because after reading Farewell to Manzanar, I was seeking more voices from the Japanese American community. Kochiyama's essay stood out as rare:
"Everything changed for me on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. On that very day--December 7, the FBI came and they took my father."
She goes on to write about the hysteria of war and the cries to "get the 'Japs' out," about the evacuation of thousands and thousands and about sleeping in a horse stable on army cots and muslin bags filled with straw. "And for chairs, everybody scrounged around for carton boxes, because they could serve as chairs. You could put two together and it could be a little table. So it was just makeshift." 

And, most importantly, she writes about feeling betrayed by her country--not a betrayal filled with rage and resentment, but with confusion and pain. "I was so red, white and blue," she writes, "I couldn't believe this was happening to us. America would never do a thing like this to us."

Reading Kochiyama's essay, just a few pages long in a large anthology, made me realize how much of my own family's history needed to be explored. We too were a people disempowered and disenfranchised when the Communists took over China. My grandparents were forced out of the place they called home, my parents were brought to a promised land around the world, and sometimes I wonder if America will ever feel like home to them.