Identities in Motion: Asian American Film and Video
Peter X Feng
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Peter X Feng considers a wide range of works—from genres such as detective films to romantic comedies to ethnographic films, documentaries, avant-garde videos, newsreels, travelogues, and even home movies. Feng begins by examining movies about three crucial moments that defined the American nation and the roles of Asian Americans within it: the arrival of Chinese and Japanese women in the American West and Hawai’i; the incorporation of the Philippines into the U.S. empire; and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. In subsequent chapters Feng discusses cinematic depictions of ideological conflicts among Asian Americans and of the complex forces that compel migration, extending his nuanced analysis of the intersections of sexuality, ethnicity, and nationalist movements.
Identities in Motion illuminates the fluidity of Asian American identities, expressing the diversity and complexity of Asian Americans—including Filipinos, Indonesians, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Laotians, Indians, and Koreans—from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century.
truly connected to the past we would have no need for historical narratives; history, like all stories, is repeated because its truths are not self-evident.3 The continual repetition of history by cinema reveals anxiety about historical truth; that is, history must continually be repeated so as to persuade us of the legitimacy of the status quo, but the continued repetition suggests that history is actually a construction that can be contested.4 If history were not repeated, if our connection to
the stories I’d heard, and the images on my father’s movie screen.’’ This sequence may not seem particularly innovative at ﬁrst glance: the ﬁlmmaker uses home movies to represent her memories, memories that (it turns out) actually grew out of home movies (these movies, presumably). But the succeeding sequence tellingly recasts the previous one: we again see the leader, but this time accompanied by the sound of a projector on the soundtrack; that sound continues, along with foleyed sound eﬀects,
collect on their parents’ return tickets, giving the lie to one-way cultural ﬂow. Thomas Wolfe’s dictum ‘‘You can’t go home again’’ is thus not a lament but our saving grace: it provides for a multiplicity of Chinas and a multiplicity of Chinese and Chinese American identities.5 Although journeys to China may be inspired by romantic visions of reuniﬁcation with one’s inner self, that destination can never be reached, for that China no longer exists. That is why these makers do not simply tell
1984, 62). Jo asserts that the identity crisis is never over (that hyphenate peoples like Steve as well as Chan are always becoming), to which Steve replies that everybody has a role in ‘‘the game.’’ Steve tells a story about an old friend of his, and then invokes his experience in Vietnam, ‘‘getting shot at by my own peo—; ’ey! The Chinese are all over this city. Why are you tripping so heavy on this one dude, man?’’ (63) Steve almost refers to the Vietnamese as his own people,10 but he stops
the heteronormativity of racial identity formations (because race is predicated on biological reproduction), and therefore these ﬁlms serve to destabilize identity. On the other hand, these movies were unable to eﬀectively interrogate the myth of racial purity that undergirds virtually all conceptions of national identity, thereby failing to challenge national identity. My interest in these ﬁlms thus emerges from the ways they are implicated in the twinned desires to open a space for ﬂuid