I am an individual blessed with unique opportunities and experiences and the Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival is one of them. It is through each of our individual experiences that has allowed the IPAAFF committees to intersect. For me, it was my experience as a Chinese-American growing up in the Bronx that initiated my involvement with IPAAFF. Growing up, we are saturated with infinite images and ideas that can either come from various media outlets, people in our everyday lives, or a combination of both. We’ll pick which one resonate with us and run with it.
As an adolescent, I had difficulty identifying with the images coming from my television box. I wasn’t white so television shows like “7th Heaven” and “Full House” didn’t resonate with my youthful mind. I loved basketball so you would think, “well, you should’ve watched ‘One Tree Hill,’ it had a lot of basketball in it.” However, just like the other shows it was difficult to relate and see myself in it because 1) I didn’t have blond hair or blue eyes 2) the show took place in the South (a tad bit far from NYC) 3) I just couldn’t see myself winning high school basketball games. I just couldn’t for some reason, and thinking about it now makes me shake my head.
The only time I would see someone who looked or resembled me on television was on several rare instances. One of them was when I was in the third grade and I remember flipping to “American Idol” (back when it was the craze) and watching a fellow by the name of William Hung perform Ricky Martin’s She Bangs. After the audition I was more ecstatic than amused by the performance because for the first time I saw an Asian American person speak to me through the television box. I remember going to school the next day all ready to discussed what happened last night but everyone beat to it. As soon as recess started one of the kids from the fourth grade called me over to their usual hangout spot by the swings. Now, as a third grader that probably was the highlight of my week: having a fourth grader call you over. The conversation went something like this:
Fourth Grader: “Yo kid” *motions me over*
Me: *Walks over apprehensively*
Fourth Grader: “You know William Hung?”
Fourth Grader: “Lemme hear you sing that song he sang last night”
Fourth Grader: “She bangs, she bangs, oh she moves, she moves (proceeds to sing it mockingly and walks away)
That was the identity I had throughout elementary school. It wasn’t until I began playing basketball that everyone started to call me Yao Ming. It might’ve made sense and I could see where everyone was coming from: Yao Ming = basketball, Hai = basketball, and therefore by transitive property, Hai = Yao. Good. Sometimes I even got Jet Li because of the resemblance of my last name “Lin” to his. Other than that I shared no identifiable traits with these men and didn’t see myself doing the things they did.
However, what I really appealed to me at the time was the model minority myth. It wasn’t something that picked up from television, but an idea or general consensus among my peers in Saturday Chinese School. I was pretty much a straight A student from elementary school and up until the beginning of high school, with strict parents and an affinity for mathematics. I strongly believed during that period of my life that Asian Americans were innately superior and gifted intellectually than other races. Obviously, that idea is false, as I later discovered in high school that my classmates started receiving higher grades than me in Geometry class and that would later carry over to other classes too. These events ruptured everything I knew my whole life and I went into the “find yourself” phase of high school. I realize now that ever since the inception of the first form of communication in America, the only image of Asian Americans would either fall on the spectrum of exotic and foreign or the model minority. If you’ve been fed the foreign and exotic image your whole life, wouldn’t you try to identify with the more positive one, the one that would give you some aspects of inclusion and acceptance? I know it did for me, but you know how that goes.
The Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival presents an opportunity to show everyone that our experiences aren’t just restricted to aspirations to the top colleges, but much rather a complex relationship with ourselves, with society, and with our family. Through that, I hope the films highlight some of the experiences that Asian Americans face and hopefully strikes a chord with the audience. Ultimately, I want someone in the audience to say to themselves “Hey, that’s me up there, I can relate, I’m not alone.”