VAFF: Asian-Canadian or Canadian-Asian… and what about being mixed-race Canadian?
Vancouver Asian Film Festival,
continues to celebrate it's 10th anniversary by asking provocative
questions about identity, and exploring the qualities of Asian-ness
through the eyes of immigrants or through multi-generational Canadians
of mixed races parentage.
Saturday morning's program, Canadian Asian vs. Asian Canadian: Politically Correct Labels, featured films
Canadian-Chinese by Felix Cheng, and Between: Living in the Hyphen by
Anne-Marie Nakagawa, plus a panel discussion featuring UBC English
Assistant Professor Glenn Deer, author/editor Alexis Kienlen, UBC
English instructor Chris Lee, and Georgia Straight editorial assistant
The films each explored sensitive topics of identity.
Canadian-Chinese explored the relationship of language to first and
second generation immigrants, as director Felix Cheng interviewed his
parents and friends about the process of learning to speak Chinese and
his resistance of it when he was younger. Cheng said he did this
film as a project while attending Emily Carr Schol of Art and
Design. His parents immigrated from Hong Kong, when Cheng was
still two years old, and didn't learn English fully because they were
focussed on providing for the family. Felix says he basically
grew up with his older brother watching English television
Through the interviews with his parents, it is apparent that they have
a different perspective of him growing up and not wanting to lear to
speak Chinese, then he does. He is now questioning himself and
his identity, as he converses with a friend who came to Canada at age
six. It is an intimate look at the schism between immigrant
parents and their children as they come to grips with the children
wanting to fit in more with Canadian society, at the risk of creating a
communication gap with their parents. At one point, Cheng shows
moving pictures of his parents interacting and talking without sound,
highlighting the inability to understand the Chinese language…
imagining for the audience what it must be like to be unable at times
to communicate with his parents.
Ann-Marie Nakagawa has created a beautiful lush film about the personal
issues of growing up mixed race. She spoke to the audience that
Canadian and Hollywood films have addressed mixed-race relationships
but never really about the children who grow up in such unions, and the
issues that they have to face, sometimes ostracized from one culture or
the other, or both.
Nakagawa found a variety of celtic-First Nations, Indo-German,
Carribean-Caucasian, African-Caucasian, Chinese-Irish-Scottish-Swedish
subjects for her interviews by word of mouth, she told the
Poet Fred Wah, the poet / retired University of Calgary Engish professor is featured in Between: Living in the Hyphen, a National Film Board film. He speaks
about growing up mixed-race, and finding his own place in a Canada that
initially wanted to homogenize everybody into a White Anglo-Saxon
culture during the 1950's when he grew up. Several other
interview subjects discuss growing up as products of racial hybridity,
and how they move between the ethnic cultures of either parent, as well
as mainstream White Canada.
Nakagawa proves herself to be a gifted filmaker both in presentation
and subject material. Over a period of three years, she got to
know the interview subjects to the point where they trusted her enough
to share intimate and personal stories of race and prejudice.
Some feel they are as Canadian as can be, while others share that
because of the way they look, they will always be questioned as to
their ethnic origin, as the traditional stereotype “Canadian standard”
is white, blond with blue eyes. Nakagawa plays this challenge to
great effect by utilizing the famous “I am Canadian” Molson beer
commercial rant, which featured a good looking caucasian male.
It is an interesting must-see film that seeks to legitimize mixed-race
as a valid cultural identity within the mosaic of Canadian
multiculturalism, while challenging the the pigeon-hole process of
The following panel discussion was lively. It included
perspectives that were honest, academic, casual, immigrant
-based, multi-generational, and prarie-informed. Each panelist
described themselves and their interests in relation to the themes of
identity and labeling. Kienlen said she used the term mixed race,
because that is what she is. While many of the Nakagawa's
subjects grew up as solitary mixed race individuals, she grew up with
her mother who is half-Chinese.
Takeuchi says he describes himself as 4th generation Japanese Canadian,
because it is important to demonstrate the relationship to the
internment. Lee said he felt he was the newcomer to the
group because his parents were immigrants, and because of that he
doesn't have all the familial history that the other panelists carry.
Festival founder and president Barb Lee shared she came up with the
theme of Asian Canadian vs Asian Canadian on a car trip in Eastern
United States with her sister. They argued about the usage of the
word forms. Her sister stated she was Canadian Asian because she
wanted to emphasize her Canadianess by putting Canadian before
Asian. Glenn Deer pointed out that the word “Canadian” is really
a noun, denoting a country and a culture, so that Asian Canadian is the
more correct term.
Personally, I feel that both forms of usage are valid, but Asian
Canadian denotes a Canadian of Asian heritage, where Canadian Asian
will more likely describe an immigrant Asian who has come to
Canada. Felix Cheng's film's subjects were Canadian Asians, born
in Hong Kong, who became naturalized Canadians. Nakagawa's film
included Fred Wah a Canadian of diverse ethnic ancestry who can be
included in the group of Asian Canadians.