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.

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