Finding Myself Through IPAAFF by Priscilla Lee

I’m not one to talk about myself, especially about my feelings, experiences, and stories. However, after the Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival event this past week, I feel compelled to share what being a part of this film festival has meant to me.

My story has always been difficult for me to tell to people, not because of tragedies or hardships (although those reasons add to the fact), but mainly because I feared, and believed, that my many layers and factors would become non-relatable and further isolate me to feel like a foreigner wherever I went.

I was born and raised in Kenya for the majority of my life, living a few years in the United States here and there. At first, I would tell people I am American by citizenship, Korean and African American by blood, but essentially Kenyan, even though I never really felt like I belonged anywhere. Analyzing how I felt for many years as I lived in Kenya, I felt like a foreigner. When my family lived in the United States for a few years, I looked like “a foreigner.” When I visited Korea as a child, I was treated as a foreigner. I struggled with finding where I fit in, constantly changing myself to blend in with different groups of people and letting others define me based on how I looked and acted. To many people, I was referenced as a “bruised banana,” meaning that I am Black and Asian on the outside and “American” on the inside.

It wasn’t until I came to college when I really started to dig into my history and decide what and how I would identify myself as and to find my agency in that identity. Throughout the past three years at Ithaca College, I have grown, and I now contently self-identify as being Korean-African-American, although I still have a long journey ahead of me in growing more and more confident in my identity. There are still hard days when I struggle with trying and wanting to blend in with other Koreans or African Americans, and to a certain extent, looking for their approval. Other times, my own acceptance in the fact that I am mixed race and to belong is not for other’s approval, but my own.

I became a part of IPAAFF through the promotion and encouragement of my advisor, Changhee Chun. He kept insisting we would make history together through this class. Being Asian American and in Ithaca, I felt, in a weird way, a small sense of duty to be a part of the festival. Throughout the semester, I worked day in and day out, with some days being on fire for the festival and proud that we are creating this event and other days questioning what the whole point was. Regardless, the event started and ended.

In the end, no matter how much work I did or didn’t put into the film festival, I am delighted and especially honoured to be a part of the first Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival for three main reasons.

First, it allowed me to meet so many great individuals in the class who have not only encouraged me, and each other, throughout the semester and event, but also allowed me to feel like I have a community of members who have my back when I didn’t have the energy to go through the day. Second, watching the films that were submitted and screened made me realize that “Asian American” is a much broader term than I ever thought about and creating a film about Asian American identity can be just another narrative film. And finally third, it allowed me to realize that my story too, just might be able to reach out to people, so I should not be afraid of sharing it. My many layers that I was once afraid of is now something I am learning to embrace and appreciate about myself and encourage my agency.

Performer Special: The Side B Story by Jackson Li (jaeL)

I’m here to tell Asian Americans the Asian American narrative: Side B. We already know what Side A is; a culture that only equates academic achievement and financial stability as success. We grew up in Side A. American media also knows about Side A very well and even affectionately renamed us as “The Model Minority.” But despite how our communities feel about the Model Minority myth…there is still a rather large sense of comfort about living in Side A.

There’s also a rather large curiosity towards Side B, even if it’s buried underneath layers and layers of fear. If Side A represents the desire to master the math and sciences, then Side B represents the desire to master the arts and athletics. If Side A represents a bright, clear day, then Side B represents a dark, mysterious night. And as the guidance of Side A gets passed down generation after generation, Side B becomes nothing more than a fairy tale.

Asian Americans are raised to fear Side B. You see, Side A is a journey that offers relatively instant tangible gratification and math and science fields sure seem to work in that kind of system. If you study hard, you’re almost guaranteed good grades. If you have good grades, you’re almost guaranteed a spot at a prestigious college or university. If you attend a college or university, you’re almost guaranteed a well-paying job. Almost. Close enough.

On the other hand, Side B is a journey filled with uncertainty. Nothing is guaranteed. Not even “almost guaranteed.” Side B is like growing a bamboo tree: you lay the ground work, you plant the seed, and you water the spot every day for five years without seeing any stalks. You’re also unable to overturn the seeds to see if they’re rooting since you’d kill the plant. And only after five years will the stalks finally begin to grow above ground…granted that you’ve watered the correct spot with the right amount of water for five years.

But unlike Side B, there are plenty of people partaking the growing bamboo. Because there are thousands of bamboo stalks well over 50 feet tall. They are no fairy tale.

However, to most Asian American adolescents, Side B is a fairy tale. Side B is not something that gets brought up at your dinner table conversations with your parents. In fact, Side B is often regarded as hopeless, and so we grow up forever curious, but extremely fearful, about embarking on the Side B journey.

Little did we know that the roads of Side B have already been paved.

There are a lot of Asian Americans who have already embarked on the Side B journey long ago and have found success. In my field alone, I can name a handful of rappers who have pioneered the art for our communities: Chops from the Mountain Bros (the first Asian American rappers to ever get signed to a major record label), MC Jin, Magnetic North and Bambu. There are also a large number of current Asian American rappers that are finding success: Dumbfoundead, Awkwafina, D-Pryde, and Timothy Delaghetto just to name a few.

And thus, it becomes ever more important to not let the story of these individuals’ journeys become fairy tales. Because the fear of Side B stems from being unaware that these roads are in existence.

#FML is my Side B narrative; the first part of my journal throughout this quest. I can’t guarantee that I’ll ever reach the caliber of the artists I previously mentioned…but that matters not. What’s really important is that #FML shall exist and can serve as a reference to my underclassmen and future generations so that they may at least entertain the possibility of Side B without fear.

A line from one of Lupe Fiasco’s songs: “The mind fears what the blinds hide, but I’m here on the blindside.” I’m here in Side B. Come along, take a journey with me into the dark side of the moon.

And if we shed a little light, then our community just might be able to see that it’s every bit just as beautiful as the side we’re all used to.

Our Festival Matters by Hai Lin

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?”
Me: Yeah?!
Fourth Grader: “Lemme hear you sing that song he sang last night”
Me: “Uhh…”
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.”

Facilitating Discussion and Creating Representation by Emily Ramos

In my senior year of college, a new course was developed: Asian American Film and Film Festival. This course was created to give a voice to those often left silenced in mainstream media. Throughout the course we had readings that taught us how to critically analyze the portrayal of Asian Americans in film. Through the course of five days, Ithaca’s first Pan Asian American Film Festival (IPAAFF) aims to open up a discussion about stereotypes and tropes that flood mainstream media and provide a space for alternative narratives to dominate and highlight the diverse experiences of Asian Americans.

IPAAFF is revolutionary because it is going against the norm in our white hegemonic society. We are providing an outlet for alternative narratives told by the oppressed. Everything we consume in media is through the white man’s lens as he controls the power, politics, money, influence, and media companies in the United States. As oppressed people within the U.S., it is very important for non-whites to create our own forms of media, as seen with past social movements such as The Black Panther newspaper, Palante! newspaper, and strategically televised marches and speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As a leader of the student organization, PODER, I think it is important to note that IPAAFF isn’t just Asian Americans who are advocating for their voices to be heard and for their experiences to be accurately and authentically represented in our society; it is for all voices. The mainstream media is corrupted and controlled by the elite and won’t show true representations of our people. They are only focused on reinforcing their dominant ideologies that marginalize and simplify our experiences, which leads to issues of identity and can often cause tensions within our communities and cross culturally. We have to create our own forms of media to get the truth out there. Not only does IPAAFF create a safe and open space for dialogue, but it also teaches us valuable skills as we produce this film festival.

Before I began the class I knew nothing about film festivals, except that we would be showing films. But, there was really so much to do in so little time. From getting film submissions, to making trailers, marketing materials, raising funds, planning out other events during the festival, and reaching out to people — it was a lot. I am glad I was able to have this experience and learn about the inner workings of planning a film festival. Although I didn’t know much going in, I learned a lot coming out of it and am positive that managing the film festival will be another challenge of its own.

We are definitely excited to make IPAAFF possible. We hope there is a great turnout and that the film festival has a large impact on the community as a whole. We hope IPAAFF will continue each year just like other annual community traditions like FLEFF and Apple, Chili, and Porch Fest.

“Missing in History” and Why It Matters by Phuong Nguyen

I often tell my students that change happens because ordinary people fight everyday to make it so. And in doing so, they make their own history. To kick off the first ever Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival, we will be screening a historic documentary by three Ithaca College students entitled Missing in History. After almost 2 years at IC, I, a professor in the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity (CSCRE) and the coordinator of the Asian American Studies minor, finally got the opportunity to view this incredible short film. The filmmakers tell us from the get-go that they know almost nothing about this craft, but the next 15 minutes prove the exact opposite. These three women—one Chinese, one Filipina, and one White—bemoan the fact that IC is a predominantly white campus that doesn’t provide enough opportunities and spaces to challenge hegemonic thinking on race and ethnicity. In other words, people are legally liberated, but their minds remain colonized. There are student organizations like the Asian American Alliance, and there’s also CSCRE, but why, these students ask, is there no Asian American Studies?

Their labor was rewarded in 2013, when IC hired me to join CSCRE and coordinate the Asian American Studies minor. For that I’m grateful because it’s not often one gets paid for doing something they love while working with some of the best students out there. Protestors wrote letters, signed petitions, spread the word, built coalitions, and they created this 15-minute cinematic testimonial entitled Missing in History. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of protestors making a video that encapsulated their demands in such humanistic fashion. It’s one thing for Asians to be missing from U.S. history books; it’s another when our society has ready-made ideologies to justify those exclusions. The racist philosophy that guided the historians of the old days stated that superior cultures (and individuals) have and make history while inferior groups lack it. This ersatz meritocracy led generations of people to assume that groups missing from our history books had excluded themselves by belonging to an inferior race, which explained their lack of consequential accomplishments.

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From left: Ithaca College alumnae Kristy Zhen, Kristiana Reyes and Kaitlin Hibbs are the filmmakers of the documentary “Missing in History.”

Lack of Asians in the U.S. history books can easily lead us to assume Asians have not lived in the United States that long. That’s a lie as Asians have lived in North America as early as 1763. Lack of Asians in U.S. history books can easily lead us to assume that Asian immigrants historically didn’t want to become American. That’s a lie as Asians were barred by law from entering the country, testifying in court against whites, marrying whom they wanted, and becoming U.S. citizens. The powers that be came up with every excuse in the book: Asians are sojourners who don’t want to settle here; the founding fathers never intended Asians to become U.S. citizens; we can’t admit more Asians to our university because we want more students who are well-rounded; we can’t promote Asians to leadership roles because we need leaders who everyone can relate to.

Lack of Asians in U.S. history books can easily lead us to assume that Asians lacked any artistic, political, scientific, or business ambitions until recently. That’s a lie, too, as we’ve had generations and generations of talented Asian Americans whose names we can barely remember because those who write our history books don’t want to spend precious book space telling us how Asian Americans, like other people of color, succeeded despite discriminatory barriers that kept many talented people unrewarded and unrecognized, leaving us only with a model minority myth that claims that past and present wrongs are irrelevant because Asians are only good at math and science anyway.

Ignorance is not bliss. The voices in Missing in History know that knowledge is more than just power; it’s a the key to survival, a way to counter the lies we were told throughout our lives all to justify a Eurocentric curriculum. Knowledge is their ticket to belonging and knowing their true place in American society and history. On Monday, April 20, we will invite the three filmmakers, Kristy Zhen, Kristiana Reyes, and Kailin Hibbs, to join us for a screening of Missing in History. And we, the beneficiaries of all the hard work this film marvelously captured, get to thank them in person.

What IPAAFF Means to Me by Kathlyn Quan

“What film has changed your life?”
“Joy Luck Club. It was the first time I ever saw someone who looked like me and challenged her identity on TV. I’ve never had that feeling before.”

That was one of the questions I was asked during my interview at San Francisco’s Center for Asian American Media (CAAM). I went into the organization, only able to list exactly one film about Asian Americans. After my internship, I had a list about a page long.

Being able to work at CAAM allowed me to be inspired, encouraged, and excited about all types of Asian American films whether I related to them or not. Even growing up in a diverse area of California, I was simply never exposed to these kinds of films and festivities that centered around Asian American culture and identities. Being able to be a part of something bigger was what I spent so many years discovering and learning about for my last year at Ithaca College.

When I came back to school, I knew I wanted others to be part of this community too. I wanted my friends and everyone around to feel the excitement of history and academia, passion and community all thrown into a week’s worth of celebration. As progress has developed on Ithaca Pan Asian American Film Festival, I am constantly challenged, frustrated, humbled, and appreciative of everything and everyone around me.

I learn every day about how businesses and organizations work, why hard work is so important, and most importantly, what it means to collaborate and work as a team. Projects such as IPAAFF show the best and the worst in people; I certainly know it has done that to me, but honestly, I’ve learned so much from these experiences and my teams.

Working with them reminds me why these festivals are so important. They bring people together about subjects that affect everyone. The more conversations we involve ourselves in, the more aware we become of these problems that do not belong to any one group. They differ between people, but injustice and inequality exists everywhere. While IPAAFF cannot represent them all, it opens a safe space for people to discuss and learn about everyday problems, solutions, and misunderstandings. Through dialogue, we face them together and that makes all the difference.