The other day I saw this documentary on Tru TV called “The Problem With Apu.” It’s created by a comedian named Hari Kondabolu and it also stars a lot of other well-known Indian and Indian-American comedians. It is about the racism contained in stereotypes of Indians present in a vast majority of American media and how it affects not just the actors who are forced into theses roles, but the views and attitudes the audience comes to have ingrained in them overtime. It focuses on the character of Apu from The Simpsons but also talks about many different characters from other shows and movies. It was really interesting and is created by a comedian so it’s funny and compelling to watch, too.
Here is the link to the 49 minute documentary. You should be able to watch it with any kind of cable service login: http://www.trutv.com/shows/the-problem-with-apu/index.html
I just thought it was interesting and kind of connected with our class so I though I’d share it!
“One day she will have to tell her son he doesn’t have to be like Joshua Hartnett/to be a hero.
If I ever have a daughter I will have to tell her
that she does not have to love someone the same color as Mel Gibson
to be beautiful” (71)
These lines are from “Giving my Neighbor a Ride to Her Job.”
I found these lines to be incredibly sad that young children feel insignificant or ugly due to their race. It is upsetting that a parent would have to tell a child that they can be a hero or they can be beautiful but I know that is a reality for a lot of people. Also, this made me think about how whitewashing occurs in movies a lot and now these children don’t have much representation in movies or TV shows to encourage them to be a hero or let them know that they are beautiful.
I just saw this article yesterday in The Guardian on a “new generation” of Asian American writers. I don’t really agree with the huge gap the author sees between Kingston and these writers, but some interesting new works are highlighted if you’re looking for more reading!
One of the things that interests me most about Bao Phi’s poems is his use of pop culture references. This is why I was absolutely fascinated by “The Godzilla Sestina.” I feel like Bao Phi must be a Godzilla fan- how else could he so perfectly capture all of the horror and vengeance that Godzilla is supposed to represent? You see, Godzilla wasn’t always known for his goofy looking battles with other giant monsters. In his original 1954 movie, he was supposed to represent what kind of horrors could result from nuclear war, and how nature always takes vengeance on humanity for trying to play God and causing mass destruction in the process. The original movie was more of a horror movie than anything else- back then, the idea of nuclear war resulting in a threat like Godzilla terrified a lot of people.
In this poem, Phi seems to mainly use Godzilla as a symbol for the fury and hatred that Japan felt toward America after the bombs were dropped. So rather than a vengeful force of nature, Phi interprets Godzilla as a creature born from the wrath of a victimized people, who are ready to unleash all the fury that was once unleashed upon them back on their oppressors. Or perhaps it goes beyond that- maybe Phi is trying to speak for all Asian cultures in this poem. Perhaps Godzilla is supposed to represent the fury and vengeance of all the Asian cultures that have been oppressed by America, especially those who are citizens of America. Maybe all the fiery destruction that Godzilla causes is meant to represent people of Asian cultures fighting back against their white American oppressors. This could be the reason why this poem comes immediately after “Reverse Racism.” Either way, as a Godzilla fan, I found Bao Phi’s version of Godzilla to be surprisingly dark and terrifying, and yet perfectly fitting of what the character was originally meant to be. But beyond that, I think that the main purpose of this poem is to personify all the hatred, fury and desire for revenge felt by Japan, and perhaps all Asian cultures, toward America for all the atrocities they have suffered.
“I speak English in this tale, but they don’t listen, so I speak in fireballs, the language they hear, the nightmare they dropped, the monster they created.” (Phi 64)
Lately I have been dabbling in spoken word, and I am so in love with this collection of poems! My favorite one, although not a poem, is the reverse racism one! I could relate to all of the feelings of the speaker. Also, it’s absolutely hilarious because of how satirical it is. I am a huge fan of satire and sarcasm so these literary devices allowed me to easily identify with the speaker. My favorite part is the third to the last paragraph, where the speaker talks about reversing the racial roles of two classic movies. I literally laughed out loud at these movie references! One of which, “White Crush” refers to the movie Blue Crush! The speaker is playing on Asians creating a satirical movie scenario that asianwashes *cringes* the origins of snowboarding! Blue Crush is lowkey one of my favorite movies from my early 00s childhood, but today if I watch it, I always watch it with awareness. It’s centered around a plain white blonde who becomes a star surfer in Hawaii while living off a hotel maid’s wages. It basically glorifies her surfing skills and marginalizes, her non white best friends/supporting actresses, and more importantly, everything about the origins of surfing and Hawaiian culture. Not to mention, she manages to pull the “hot football nfl player” main character, and he just conveniently thinks this random beach bum, who works in the hotel he’s staying at, is the one. Anyway, this movie was made for the white American teens growing up in that time’s skater/surfer/grunge pop culture era.
The other one, “The Last Cowboy”, is referring to The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise. I recently discussed this one in my Asian Civ class with Fernsebner, and heard good things about it from classmates. The point the speaker is making is that in most western-made movies about Asian history of any kind, is usually whitewashed (peep Memoirs of Geisha). This movie was not but the plot was still centered around a triumphant white man in Asian territory, so I understand why it was relevant to the piece.
P.S. I am so glad that this is one of the few books I did not rent or borrow from the library! I have been a creative writer since I was in the second grade, and poetry has always been a strong outlet for me! It blossomed into rap music and I kind of lost touch with it in the last few years. This class has most definitely reignited the flame, and I am looking forward to reciting one of these poems on friday 🙂
We touched on this a little bit in class, and I don’t know if somebody else has blogged about it, but I’m interested in sexuality in The Gangster We Are All Looking For. The first kind of exposure we have to any kind of attraction is when the girl is younger and playing in the abandoned burnt house that has all the debris in it. There’s a picture of a man and a woman, and the girl has no interest in the man (“I didn’t look at him too much”) but she focuses a lot on the woman. She keeps going back and thinking about her and her soft looking skin and her piled-up red hair. The next part is about being in the kissing box with the boy, and how close the two of them get. I’m pretty sure at this point the girl is either going through or has recently gone through puberty so this curiosity is pretty normal. But then there’s that one scene in the tower with the girl and her friend where the girl takes off her shirt, and there’s just a lot of subtext there.
I think this is all interesting because it kind of ties in with the girl’s search for her identity. She doesn’t know exactly who she is or what she’s meant to be doing in life, and on top of that she’s not exactly sure of her sexuality.
I wanted to weigh in on my opinion about the ending of “The Gangster We Are All Looking For.” I thought the ending was hopeful especially with the girl looking back at a happy memory; “My father remembers stroking my mother’s face. My mother remembers wearing my father’s coat. I remember taking off my sandals and digging my heels into the wet sand” (158). It seems that the girl is remembering all the happy memories she has with her family and it is a reminder that her family has had good times. Also, it seems that since these happier memories are ending the book then that should be the focus. Also, the part with the fish coming to shore, I took that as the fish jumping out of the water and the father smiled because it reminded him of his son. I thought the memory of the girl’s brother would stay alive within the fish especially since the fish were described very beautifully. I can see how this ending could be seen as negative or not a happy ending due to some of the language.
After our discussion in class today, I realized that I drew quite a few parallelisms between Ba (of The Gangster We’re All Looking For) and another character in a book that we read earlier this semester. I wonder if some of you will agree.
We struggle to hate Ba but a part of us struggles to like him as well. Ba pushes people away but desperately wants love, happiness, and serenity. Ba struggles with some inner demons that he cannot seem to escape. Ba was imprisoned due to the war, which seems to account for his psychological damage. Ba has violent/angry outbursts that those around him seem to bear the brunt of. Ba seems to be lost in American society. Ba is estranged from at least one of his parents. Ba tends to become withdrawn from others. Ba is stuck with a past that he can never truly shed or escape from.
To me, Ba reminds me quite a bit of Ichiro from No-No Boy. Both are attempting to find happiness on the east coast of the U.S. and struggling to figure out where this peace is hiding.
Although the water seemed to bring a sense of hope and maternal stability, in the last part of the book it became dark. This book was extremely sad (what a surprise) and the water for the most part became something that inhibited the characters from being happy. It is interesting that water in this book represented both good and bad. However, I read it as it being a destructive force for the most part, rather than life-giving. Her brother drowns in the water and the ladies who were supposed to comfort his family were against the dead boy being in the house because of the bad luck the “bad water” would bring to the family. The water appears to be a metaphor for life. There are good and bad times, however there is more bad than good due to the corrupt world we live in.
So a lot of people have been talking about how Ba’s character completely changes during the second half of the novel. And I agree- during the first half of the novel, Ba seemed to be a caring father who would play along with his daughter’s fantasies, and it almost seemed like he was living mainly for her. But as the protagonist gets older, Ba devolves into a character that is the polar opposite of what he used to be. He becomes drunk, abusive, and seemingly empty of all emotion other than sadness and rage. I find it particularly interesting that in the sections where the narrator is still young, she still refers to her father as “Ba,” but it seems that in the sections where the narrator is an adult, she simply refers to him as “my father.” It’s a strong sign that as the girl grew older, she came to lose all affection and respect for her father, and no longer considered him worthy of that nickname.
However, I think that toward the end of the novel, there is some hope and possibly even some redemption for Ba’s character. During the last two chapters, the narrator describes some pleasant memories she has of her father, such as how, in the years before Ma arrived in America, they would walk around their neighborhood and ride the bus to the beach whenever they couldn’t sleep. I was also fond of the way the novel ended, with a pleasant memory of the three main characters going to the beach and watching the silver fish in the moonlight. However, I noticed that the narrator’s voice is a lot less personal in these last two chapters than it was in previous chapters. I think that may be because she’s describing the memories in these chapters the way her father remembers them. I think its possible that after the narrator received a phone call from Ba as an adult, she reconnected with him and perhaps even shared some happy memories with him, and so she describes some of these memories in the last chapter. This could be why the final chapter portrays Ba in a more positive light, rather than as the abusive drunk we saw in previous chapters. And if Ba did try to reconnect with his daughter, then it’s possible that there is some redemption for his character. Of course, this is just my interpretation of the story, and I’m interested to see what other people think.