July 14, 2008
Mr. Chin and Mr. Choy
Frank Chin at the Hall Street Grill
Mr. Chin came to Portland, and he has left Portland. Mr. Choy has done the same. Portland will never be the same. Thymos will never be the same. An entire world of possibilities has opened for our organization and our city, and our knowledge of strategies for Asian American change virtually quadrupled overnight. All this, and the event isn't even over yet--Lawson Inada speaks next Friday at the Red and Black Cafe. Go here for more info.
A brief recap:
The screening of "What's Wrong with Frank Chin?" attracted about forty people, which was smaller than our Vincent Chin event last year, but which was about the same size as the WWWFC screening in Seattle three years ago when the film first came out. We expected smaller numbers than Vincent Chin since we were talking about literature rather than hate crimes, but that we could equal Seattle was remarkable considering:
a) We have so few Asian people here, significantly less than Seattle in both numbers and percentages.
b) Frank Chin wasn't scheduled to be at the screening.
c) Three years have passed, and the film is no longer a new release.
d) We're located in a city where the JACL, an organization that Frank criticizes in the film, is by far the most powerful Asian American civil rights group in town. (Our local Portland JACL was actually a sponsor of this event and is probably the only JACL chapter ever to sponsor an event around Frank Chin. Mad props to them for valuing truth and people above politics.)
In addition, it was remarkable that we were able to get people to turn out for a movie about a man who is so different from the mainstream. Last year when we publicized Vincent Chin, we were in all the papers, all the Asian American websites (helped in large part by Asian Pacific Americans for Progress), and on all the airwaves. Everyone wanted to help us. We were riding a wave of popularity that we didn't deserve. This year, our event was listed in only one newspaper--the Asian Reporter--and only the Fighting 44s and Fallout Central publicized it. All the other major outlets either refused or didn't respond, and we fought for every bit of coverage we could get.
(Though I must admit that my time as a 44 prepared me well for this. I still don't know who else lists the 44s on their blogroll...)
The film was amazing as always, and for those who haven't yet seen it, check it out. You can order it from Curtis's website.
As for the event itself, the organizers had had much discussion about Frank Chin not being at the screening of his own film--Frank himself had said that he preferred not to be there--but in the end, Frank's keen foresight once again proved to be correct. Having a discussion with Curtis Choy alone allowed people to ask Curtis questions about his film, about life as an independent filmmaker, and about his relationship with Frank Chin. People asked very interesting questions about what went into the film and what didn't make the final cut. I won't go into his answers (you had to be there, and it's top secret), but it provided a very different perspective from the Seattle event, which was focused more on activism than the film itself. I actually liked our event a lot more, even though I must admit that it was fun watching Frank verbally pound the shit out of a Seattle heckler three years ago.
Frank Chin surpassed everyone's highest expectations in terms of his activism and knowledge. The guy knows everything. For those on the 44s who know me and who know my style of debating, you know that I'm proud of my knowledge of history, literature, and activism. My style of argumentation always refers back to facts and logic above emotion. I'm proud of that. This weekend, however, I got taken to school. Frank Chin posed questions about culture that I had never even thought of, let alone try to answer. Not only did I not know the answers to his questions, I hadn't even come up with the questions themselves! I know I wasn't the only one who felt this either. It's been two days since our guests left, and people are still talking about it.
In my last long 44s piece, I've mentioned the aura that surrounds some of these warrior activists from the 60's, but Frank's charisma was amazing. I have never ever seen an Asian American have the effect on people that Frank had. In addition to his scheduled program, we had a number of other engagements where he spoke with Portlanders. After just two minutes of talking to him, everyone in his presence began thinking about culture all the way back to the roots of their childhood. He knew all our childhood stories. He astounded everyone with his knowledge of the traditions and of history (you can see some of his work on his blog). It didn't matter if the people in his presence were male or female, Asian or non-Asian; everyone was spellbound. We all had to acknowledge the sifu/sensei in our presence.
I can't tell you everything he said--mostly because I'm still absorbing it myself--but the gist of his message was that we don't know the traditional stories from Asia. We know English stories like Jack and the Beanstalk. We know German stories like Rumpelstiltskin. We know Danish stories like the Ugly Duckling. But we don't know Chinese stories or Japanese stories or any other Asian stories, and therefore we don't know who we are or where we came from. American culture accepts stories from all over Europe and makes them a part of American culture, but the same acceptance does not take place for Asian stories. Instead of real stories, we get nothing but racist stories like the Five Chinese Brothers that have no basis in tradition or real culture.
I'll post more on this in the future--about where to find these stories, what they mean, etc. Right now, as I may have mentioned, I'm still absorbing it, and I'm trying to both learn what he showed us and to incorporate it with the (seemingly scant) knowledge that I already have. You'll be hearing more from me.
PS: This is just an aside that has little to do with the topic at hand, but you've all seen our internet message board debates where someone says, "Well, why don't you get off your butt and do something?" Or they'll say, "What have you done for Asian Americans?" Imagine being Frank Chin or Lawson Inada. You could respond to that rhetorical question by saying, "I created the Day of Remembrance for Japanese Americans" or "I, with three of my friends, invented Asian American literature!" That's an accomplishment.