Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Asian American Movement

I always wanted to be part of something - to be a part of a force greater than myself. No one wants to be stagnant. Our nature is parallel to change.

Why does there have to be a "movement" in the sense of "Asian-American movement"? Why can't it just be movement for the sake of movement? Amiri Baraka - one of the titular Black Power proponents, so badass that he made one of my classmates from NYU disillusioned because he denied my classmate's blackness (because he looked more cracker white than anything) - anyway, he once said that "All art is political, otherwise it's fascist." But what if the art sucks? And who says it sucks? Who gets to be the judge and say that this one is good, bad or ugly?

I attended a book reading at the Asian American Writer's Workshop yesterday. I've never attended one of these events and wanted to see how it would be. Three of the leading Asian-American activists from the seventies were talking about their work - the seminal photographer Corky Lee, public artist Tomie Arai and writer Karen Tei Yamashita.

Tomie Arai said that all her art is political. That's her take, of course. Art doesn't have to be political. If it's not tested, crafted and refined, it's just a trend for the amateur to exploit to further their cause. One should strive for mastery - in entertainment, possibly even as a means to educate. She was painting such a glossy image of the Basement Workshop that was her life back in the day and how we - the generation of today - owe the Basement Workshop for what we have now such as the Museum of the Chinese in the Americas, the A/P/A Studies at NYU, the Asian-American Writer's Workshop to name a few.

I'm not sure I totally agree with that because it comes back to what she said later on in the panel - that Asians are moving simply because there are more of us now than ever before, that there is a "critical mass" emerging. She and Corky were asked about what is the Asian-American movement now and Corky said that "it's moving."
It's in our nature.

Arai, in addition to her critical mass comment, even lamented the loss of Japanese-American identity, saying that the Japanese-American that once was won't be simply because they are marrying out of their race. What she didn't say but was apparent to me is that not only was that the issue but there is no longer any migration from Japan to here - a huge difference about what the face of the Asian-American movement would be. Because it's no longer a Yellow Power movement or an off-shoot of the Yellow Peril but a Rainbow face of sorts - it's the Global Village knocking at the door that's frightening. Everything is changing in such a fast rate. Everyone is becoming a product of miscegenation. We're all mixing and mixed-up. The borders we thought existed are moving, dissipating and reappearing elsewhere.

The Asian American Movement now has moved South to the Indian, the Pakistani, the Arab. It's no longer the yellow, it's gotten to mustard yellow brown.

Corky Lee astutely observed that it was war that galvanized them in the 70s. Now, the War on Terror has galvanized the South Indians/Arabs to becoming activists.

After that illuminating panel came the reading of I-Hotel about the Asian American movement in the 70s. The premise was interesting but given the author's reading of her selections, I was left disappointed. Did it need to be a 600-page tome? Perhaps she could have used judicious editing. After all, you don't need to know all the gory details of war to know that it's horrible. Also, she shouldn't have butchered her character's voice by trying to emulate an old Filipino migrant. She just sounded bad. It was painful to sit through that.

But in conclusion, these people have lived their lives actively being activists.
Their breakthroughs, though historical, have now become obsolete. (Ok, perhaps not in Corky Lee's case because what he has documented is phenomenal and RARE) As Henry David Hwang once said in a lecture, "One generation's breakthrough becomes another generation's trope."

So bottom line: just be aware and where there's injustice, stand and deliver whether you're yellow or whatnot. We're all human. Where injustice prevails, do something about it. Don't hyphenate.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Summer Gardening, Work and Everything Else

I've been on a MiracleGro-gardening-soul-train mood the past month or so. I just planted two trays of marigold seedlings on the front yard, four hybrid begonias and I just ordered seedlings of lavender, blue veronica and yarrow. As if my outdoor green thumbing isn't enough, I just bought a few hydroponically-grown bamboo stalks and a money tree. I've also been thinking of sprouting avocado seeds...
What can I say? Plants and flowers make bad juju go away. There's a lot of that if you look anywhere. Let's start with the Gulf of Mexico. On second thought, don't look there. Europe? Well, what with the volcanic ash particules in the air, I don't want my dormant asthmatic lungs to inhale any of that. Volcanic ash may be good for the earth but I'm not terra-bodied.

Anyway, work has been a bit stressful lately - what with the new manager, new staff and new policies and all. So gardening is the answer! It was either that or cooking and I haven't felt the urge to stew, baste, bake, saute or broil anything lately.

It gives me a very pleasant jolt from the pits of my bowels just looking at my handiwork outside. Ah, flowers!

If I knew that it could have been an option, maybe I would have taken horticulture or something when I was an undergrad. Maybe I would have started working in a vineyard or a farm in Italy.

Oh well.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Be Moderate

One has to consider the chance of a mischance. The impulses of the passions causeprudence to slip, and there is the risk of ruin. A moment of wrath or of pleasure carries you on farther than many hours of calm, and often a short diversion may put a whole life to shame. The cunning of others uses such moments of temptation to search the recesses of the mind: they use such thumbscrews as are wont to test the best caution. Moderation serves as a counterplot, especially in sudden emergencies. Much thought is needed to prevent a passion taking the bit in the teeth, and he is doubly wise who is wise on horseback. He who knows the danger may with care pursue his journey. Light as a word may appear to him who throws it out, it may import much to him that hears it and ponders on it.

Balthasar Gracian's Art of Worldly Wisdom
Aphorism # 207

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Know How To Transplant Yourself

I was just having a fit of the doldrums regarding my Fulbright application. Applying for the Fulbright is no easy feat. It's downright depressing, especially if you're the underdog type like me.

Anyway, I was wondering about what the whole point of going to another country was when I happened to read the words of a dead Jesuit Spanish priest that made everything make sense. And if that ain't a sign to keep going, I don't know what is.

Aphorism # 198

There are nations with whom one must cross their borders to make one's value felt, especially in great posts. Their native land is always a stepmother to great talents: envy flourishes there on its native soil, and they remember one's small beginnings rather than the greatness one has reached. A needle is appreciated that comes from one end of the world to the other, and a piece of painted glass might outvie the diamond in value if it comes from afar. Everything foreign is respected, partly because it comes from afar, partly because It is ready made and perfect. We have seen persons once the laughing-stock of their village and now the wonder of the whole world, honoured by their fellow-countrymen and by the foreigners [among whom they dwell]; by the latter because theycome from afar, by the former because they are seen from afar. The statue on the altar is never reverenced by him who knew it as a trunk in the garden.

-Balthasar Gracian

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New Post

Last night was the end of my six-week class with Meera Nair. It was excellent. We did a writing exercise at the end and picked four words from different categories - Who, What, Where, Why. The results were interesting for me. I wrote about a demented guy who practically beats his father to death. Crazy. I read it to the class and they said it was so disturbing that they thought I had to tone it down some. I shrugged and said it was a writing exercise and we didn't have time to edit so I couldn't. I'd like to work on it. Though not sure yet how much I'll tone it down.

Anyway, one of the other girls in class read hers - about a dictator who is usurped by a clown. It sounded like something I would do. Meera said it reminded her of a poem by Carolyn Forche called The Colonel.

The Colonel

What you have heard is true. I was in his house.
His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His
daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the
night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol
on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on
its black cord over the house. On the television
was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles
were embedded in the walls around the house to
scoop the kneecaps from a man's legs or cut his
hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings
like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of
lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for
calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes,
salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed
the country. There was a brief commercial in
Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was
some talk of how difficult it had become to govern.
The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel
told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the
table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say
nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to
bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on
the table. They were like dried peach halves. There
is no other way to say this. He took one of them in
his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a
water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of
fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone,
tell your people they can go f--- themselves. He
swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held
the last of his wine in the air. Something for your
poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor
caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on
the floor were pressed to the ground.

May 1978

Then we went out for pizza and everyone turned from literature to politics. I mostly kept my mouth shut because I didn't agree with a lot of what was being said. Then the discussion turned to China and I couldn't help myself. I opened my mouth and started talking. All in all, I loved this workshop with Meera and I would do it again.