High-school bud Matt Chan was in town the other day. Cigars at Kells Irish Pub, Laughs, Food, and a lot of bitching… you know we still have to work with other people for a little while yet. Gads, at one point I thought Matt was going to blow a gasket. Hint: We BOTH #Hate working with #Amateurs. I know, Hate is a strong word, but… “We’re Creative Talent” not your “Bitches”.
Anyway, in our intense discussions of Social Justice, we pondered; “what is the Asian American Experience?” No, not the Chinese or Japanese (WWII Interment) experience, but what is the “Real” Asian American experience?
In the framework of Matt and My existence in Portland, Oregon, we were both born and raised in 1950’s American Culture and Mentality. Remember, it wasn’t that long before we were born that Asians were not allowed to own property (Alien Land Laws).
Because the Naturalization Act of 1870 had extended citizenship rights only to African Americans but not other ethnic groups, these laws relied on coded language excluding “aliens ineligible for citizenship” to prohibit primarily Chinese and Japanese immigrants from becoming landowners without explicitly naming any racial group. – Wikipedia
I remember how I was treated, more importantly, I remember how my Mother was treated by the “Dominant Culture” (marginalized and dismissed), her purposeful smile (subservient) in avoidance of any confrontation; unfortunately, those memories will be memorialized forever.
The Oscars and Miyoshi Umeki (Sayonara)
In her heartbreaking performance that won her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1957, making her the first Asian actor of either gender to win, and still the only Asian actress to earn an Academy Award. She accepted her Oscar in a kimono, and her speech was gentle and tentative. “I wish somebody would help me right now,” she said, seeming to struggle with the language barrier. She then thanked “all American people” and bowed to the audience. (see video below)
This is the image shaped by that passive, reverent image of her words, certainly not a speech by today’s standards. The few parts that were available to Asian actresses in the years after World War II were often stereotypical roles.
What I would hopefully guess must have been an agonizing choice between being visible in roles that were beneath her, and/or being unseen altogether. Umeki and Japanese women, in particular, were seen as coy and doll-like — and Umeki learned to lean into that cliché to keep getting jobs. 1
We adapt; we learn to survive. Those of us who are successful have developed these survival techniques… Walk in our shoes.
The Courtship of Eddie’s Father
I remember when I used to look forward to watching The Courtship of Eddie’s Father; it was one of the rare places on television while growing up in Portland where this Asian could watch and see someone who resembled me; another Asian face; only to realize and cringe later in my adult years that what I was watching did nothing but to further an American (Western) fantasy of subservient Asian women (Yellow Fever).
It’s 2018 and our Country’s leadership is an embarrassment. This is relevant to Matt and me because we know that with the current lack of general Accountability in American Governance; we can at any monument be vulnerable to any level of attacks from the Dominant Culture no matter how ridiculous, and helplessly watch the “Needle Move” toward the dark ages. The pendulum swings…
Let’s hope we don’t have to live that nightmare. To avoid that, it will take constant diligence, communication, leadership, and the ability to organize.
So, what is your Asian American experience? How has the Asian American Experience affected your lives… ALL of you!