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There is a short phrase we find difficult, if not impossible, to say to our parents.

“I love you.”

They don’t say it. We don’t say it. Or, so I thought.  

With Mother’s Day around the corner, I wanted to delve further into this phrase, especially in relation to our mothers. Why don’t we say it? Or, do we say it often? Should we even have to say it? I walked around UCLA and asked some of my peers what their thoughts were.

Pacific Ties: Has your mom said “I love you” to you before?
Josephine Gao: Yes, my mom has … every time before I fly to UCLA. It makes me feel very happy and loved. It is very comforting to hear, especially if she says it when I am stressed or upset.
Raymond Huynh: No, but she makes food for me which is all the love I need.
Sujan Kim: My mom tells me she loves me all the time – whenever we hang up on the phone, whenever we’re hanging out, all the time.

PT: How does your mom express her love for you?
Frank Deng: She tells me. She worries about every little thing for me.
Pauline Tze: Basically, my mom worries at least twice as much about the things I’m worried about even after I stop being worried about them, and she nags me about things I haven’t been worrying about as well. I just pick up her calls even if I’m in the middle of studying and bear through all her nagging.

PT: Do you say “I love you” to your mom? How does she respond?
Linda Yee: Yes! She says I love you back or kisses me.
JG: Yes, I tell my mom that I love her before I end phone conversations with her. She usually replies that she loves me too.
RH: Yes (laughs). She just laughs.
SJ: I tell her I love her as often as I can. She always reciprocates the mushiness.

PT: How do you express your love for your mom?
LY: I like to think that I express my love for my mom through my actions. I’ll go up and hug her, or I’ll try to help her with whatever she’s doing.
JG: Honestly, I don’t think I adequately express my love for my mom, even though I love her a lot and am very grateful for everything she has done for me. (But) when I come home, I help my mom with chores like cooking dinner, washing dishes and folding laundry. I bring her hot tea, and we spend quality time together, watching TV shows that she likes.
SJ: I call her often and send her funny pictures of my daily life while she does the same. It’s like I never left home.

After my interviews, I learned the phrase didn’t matter too much. Whether our mothers say “I love you” or express it through actions, their love comes in hidden and various forms that don’t require words at all. The three words are just three words.

So, this Mother’s Day and the days after, let’s not forget the spoken or unspoken love our mothers have for us. Let’s remind them of our appreciation and reciprocation through words or actions; either works! I know Sunday I’ll be giving my mom a call saying “I love you.”

 

Hui O’Imiloa (Hawai’i Club) at UCLA has been hosting an annual lu’au for the past 31 years, and this year is no exception. By showcasing contemporary and traditional hula, the Hawai’i club brings the Hawaii experience to Ackerman Grand Ballroom. In addition to traditional Hawaiian dance, this year will also feature Tahitian, and Maori (New Zealand) dances.

In Polynesian culture, a lu’au is historically an important feast marking a special occasion. The word “luau,” in Hawaiian, is the name of the taro leaf, which is typically cooked like spinach. Now, people still have luaus to come together to eat, sing, and dance.

Hui O’Imiloa means a group of adventurers or explorers, something the club members have embodied as they explore Hawaiian culture. Many do not have direct ties to Hawai’i or the Polynesian culture but still are welcome in this space. Fourth year, Angela Nguyen has been in Hawai’i club since she was a freshman because she wanted to find a space on campus that would allow her to continue hula dancing. Nguyen is now Hawai’i club’s financial co-vice president and has been preparing for the annual lu’au for the past year in hopes that students will learn a lot about Hawaiian and other Polynesian cultures.

“Not only do we perform traditional chants and dances, but also we explain the stories and the meanings behind them” said Nguyen.

Second year external vice-president, Erin Murashige is from Hawai’i and knew that before starting school that she wanted to join the club. “The club also allows me to continue to dance hula with amazing people while I am in college,” said Murashige.

Hawai’i Club’s 32nd annual Lu`au – Nohea will be held in Ackerman Grand Ballroom on May 6th from 5-9pm.

“We want to showcase authentic culture, from the costumes and decorations to the music and performances. We also hope to dispel a lot of the stereotypes surrounding Hawaiian culture (e.g. coconut bras and grass skirts) by showing that there is so much more to it than is portrayed in the media,” explained Nguyen.

In addition to dancing and ukulele performances, a traditional Hawaiian dinner will also be served.

“We are trying to showcase what a luau in Hawai’i would be like with entertainment, food and a feeling of aloha. I hope that students who attend will enjoy the experience and learn more about the culture,” said Murashige.

You can stay updated with all of Hui O ‘Imiloa’s events through their Facebook page, Facebook group, and YouTube channel

“American justice has become American injustice. Superimposed on you.”

Showcased at this year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival, “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” is a documentary directed by Steve James that encapsulates a five-year-long legal battle between the state of New York and Abacus Federal Savings Bank.

Within the first three minutes of the film, the viewer is introduced to the entire plot.

Thomas Sung founded Abacus in 1984 after realizing Chinese immigrants had no access to financial resources such as loans and credits. The family-owned community bank quickly expanded in location and provided accessible resources as it served and uplifted the Chinese community for decades in New York. Eventually, Sung’s daughters Vera and Jill joined their father in his mission to provide the Chinese community with an opportunity to attain the American Dream.

However, Abacus was not immune to greed.

The company underwent two waves of larcenous employees. The first transpired in 2003, where branch manager Carol Lim disappeared with ten million dollars. The second incident occurred in 2009 and had a less forgiving outcome. The Sung family discovered Ken Yu, a loan officer, and several other employees in the loan department had committed fraud by embezzling money from borrowers and falsifying loan documents. The Sungs responded by firing all of the responsible individuals, notifying the proper authorities and pursuing a private investigation. Shortly after their response, the New York District Attorney office involved itself in the case and charged Abacus in 2012 with 184 (later 240) counts of indictments that included mortgage fraud, grand larceny and conspiracy.

The film mastered navigating through narratives with smooth editing and transitions. The incorporation of investigative journalism that occurred during the legal battle provided an insightful and realistic element to the documentary.

The intimate familial scenes between the Sungs were well situated in the film.

The family’s Dim Sum and interview segments, for the most part, portrayed them as dedicated, genuine and humble individuals who just want to see their community succeed. These moments lighten the intense mood from the case, and for the most part, incorporated a fairly balanced perspective to juxtapose the two parties.

Nevertheless, it is evident that the prosecution lacked a definitive case.

The prosecution’s approach seemed to be executed with discrimination in mind. Their entire case was built on speculation that Abacus’ management was well aware of the corruption within their loan department, which seemed likely, but Abacus cooperated and assisted the DA when they first opened the case. However, the prosecution did not end there, for they believed that Abacus had contributed greatly to the 2008 financial crisis.

The latter is a bit far-fetched and hypocritical.  

It became obvious that justice depended on who the offender was. And Abacus was the offender targeted because of its skin color.

The government turned a blind eye on large bank companies when they engaged in fraudulent schemes that blew up and caused the 2008 financial crisis. In fact, the film shows the government bailing out the big bank companies (typically ran by white CEOs) who just had to pay the penalty fees to make the situation go away.

Abacus did not receive the same treatment.

“The DA told us, ‘You have to accept a plea of guilty for felony, plus a fine,’” said Thomas Sung.

The lack of options disregarded by the prosecution raised concerns that the DA’s targeting of Abacus was saturated with prejudice.

In response to these accusations, District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said, “I think the characterizations that this was somehow a cultural bias on the office’s part…entirely misplaced and entirely wrong. We devote an enormous amount of effort into protecting immigrant communities and I felt that our handling of the bank was consistent with how we would have handled the bank if we were investigating a bank that services a South American community or the Indian community. There was nothing different that we did or purposely designed to treat this bank differently.”

Vance highlights community of color banks in his statement, which seems contradictory to what he is saying because he is creating a distinction between privilege in large corporate banks and community banks.

His quick dismissal of discrimination is also inconsistent with the behaviors exercised by the DA office throughout the case.

In the film there is a scene where the convicted employees of Abacus were all handcuffed to a chain and led out of the courtroom by DA investigators. According to interviews from attorneys and investigative journalists, they recall their shock in seeing the fifteen Chinese individuals chained for the first time in their entire career.

The film highlighted more issues within the Chinese American community than just the legal battle.

The cinematography captures culture, conflict and a family’s grit faithful to reality. We see an entire community dependent on the offender–Abacus, to achieve their means of the American Dream and yet, that same community is harassed by the law.

“When we started the bank, it was our motivation to help all the people, all of the immigrants,” said Thomas Sung.

The Sung’s duty to the community never faltered and they persisted and fought for their legacy in court so that they can continue to serve the Chinese community.

“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” will be in theaters May 19.

Earlier this month at Star Wars Celebration Orlando, Vietnamese American actress Kelly Marie Tran was announced to play the largest new role in the upcoming film “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

According to “The Last Jedi” director Rian Johnson at the event’s “The Last Jedi” panel, Tran’s character Rose is a maintenance worker in the Resistance.

Johnson explains that one of the takeaways he had as a child growing up watching the “Star Wars” series was the idea of heroes like Luke Skywalker getting “pulled out of wherever” and becoming “this unlikely hero.”

The main hero of the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker, was a moisture farmer on the Outer Rim planet of Tatooine who was suddenly pulled into the Rebellion with the purchase of two droids. The main hero of the prequel trilogy, Luke’s father Anakin, was born a slave.

Up until recently, this “unlikely hero” has always been a white man. The seventh film in the franchise, “The Force Awakens,” features another Skywalker, Rey, but this time a white woman. The “unlikely” hero in last year’s anthology film “Rogue One” was Jyn Erso, who was also a white woman.

Evidently, it is very likely that the main “unlikely hero” in the “Star Wars” franchise is white.

(As an aside, the idea that anyone can become a hero is at odds with Anakin’s Jesus-like backstory introduced in “The Phantom Menace,” which makes the unlikeliness of the Skywalkers’ heroism much less random and much more purposeful. But we’ll ignore that because, well, “The Phantom Menace,” am I right?)

While Tran’s role is not as the main heroine of the film, it is promising that Johnson introduces Tran’s character as “the biggest new part” of “The Last Jedi.”

He explains, “The notion that anyone out there, any of us, can step up and turn into a hero. That’s really kind of where the character Rose comes from. She’s not a soldier, she’s not looking to be a hero, and she gets pulled in a very big way into an adventure in this movie with Finn, and Kelly just embodies that for me.”

Discussion of Tran’s  character from 28:37 to 32:45.

This is the first time in which the narrative that “anyone” can become a hero has been extended to an Asian American woman in the franchise since the original release of “Star Wars” 40 years ago.

Also important is the role of an Asian American woman on the big screen as a hero of the Rebellion. With Asian women generally portrayed as submissive and conforming, the role will hopefully break stereotypes and prove that they can be rebels and kick ass too.

It will be the first time that Tran, who up until now has appeared in web series and guest starred in TV roles primarily as a comedian, will appear on the big screen. The “Star Wars” franchise has propelled many of its actors to fame over the years. It has done so for the likes of Mark Hamill, and more recently Daisy Ridley and John Boyega–and it may just do the same for Tran.

This is a timely announcement considering this year’s controversial casting of a white woman, Scarlett Johansson, as Major Motoko Kusanagi in “Ghost in the Shell,” which was just released at the end of last month.

In an interview with Vice, “Ghost in the Shell” director Rupert Sanders claimed, “The world cast Scarlett really. That’s who people want to see in this kind of film … it is ultimately an international and global film starring a global lead. You need Scarlett Johansson if you are opening a film in Russia as well as in Tokyo.”

The message that Sanders sends is that only the stories and experiences of white people are universal. The “world” does not want to see an Asian story come to life portrayed by Asians. Asians are not “global,” whatever that means.

(Of course, Sanders has only directed one other film, so take his opinions on what kinds of films the world wants to see with a grain of salt.)

Ironically, on the same date that “Ghost in the Shell” was released in U.S. theaters to flop in the box office, Marvel Vice President David Gabriel accused diversity and women as the forces behind declining sales. In a statement that has been well-criticized, Gabriel claimed, “What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there.”

It is thus refreshing to see a well-loved franchise and cultural phenomenon like “Star Wars” continuing to follow its trend of including more and more diverse roles in space by introducing an Asian American woman in what will hopefully be a dynamic, stereotype-breaking role.

The series’ most recent film, “Rogue One,” features a diverse cast that includes three Asian men as part of the Rebellion. However, in celebrating the film’s diversity, it is also crucial to recognize that the film’s women and men of color all die in order to secure the plans for the Death Star. Though the cast introduced in “Rogue One” was never referred to in the original “Star Wars” films, it is questionable just how necessary it was to kill everyone off. It also raises the issue of whether or not the bodies of women and people of color are seen as more expendable.

Portrayals of Asians in space are a long time coming, especially as “Star Wars is a franchise that has always taken from Asian cultures without any representation of Asian characters up until recently.

(To be fair there is one Asian man (Lieutenant Telsij) in “Return of the Jedi” during the Battle of Endor, but he literally appears for less than 2 seconds. Yay representation!)

Director John Landis recalls that after a screening of the original film, he asked, “George, is everybody in outer space white?” It is high time for the series to feature Asians in space.

Whether or not these roles for people of color in space will be more dynamic is unconfirmed.

Hopefully the casting of Tran will lead the way for not only the casting of more and more Asian American actors and actresses, but for stories of them in more compelling roles.

Lastly, it is important to note that, despite her so-called huge role in the film, there is not a single snippet of Tran in the 2 minute and 12 second trailer for “The Last Jedi.”

The fact that Rose is a new character is irrelevant to the fact that she is excluded from the trailer, as the trailer for “The Force Awakens introduced multiple new characters. There are only 2 possible rational explanations for Tran’s character not appearing in the trailer. Either Rose is not relevant enough to the overall movie so she does not warrant time in the trailer, or Rose is relevant but the image of her is not important enough to include in the trailer. Unfortunately, neither of these two options are without flaw, and it is impossible to tell which is the better of the two, if there even is a better option. Implications of these options may mean that the Asian American community is celebrating the film for doing the bare minimum, pandering to our community, or, like Sanders’s claim referred to above, that the image of an Asian American woman will not sell and/or does not belong.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is scheduled to release in U.S. theaters on December 15, 2017.

 

When it comes to Marvel, I have a soft spot. My brothers and I, of different ages and interests, never spent time doing something together unless it was “Brother-Brother-Sister Movie Night.” Over the past several years, it had always centered around a Marvel production, but now we’ve found ourselves skipping over it in favor of another film. 

It began with “Doctor Strange,” in which the role of the Ancient One, the mentor of Dr. Strange, shifted from a Tibetan man to a Celtic woman. If Marvel really wanted to avoid racial stereotypes as they’ve claimed in regards to this casting, wouldn’t it make sense then to take away other indicators of Asian culture such as location, dress, and arts?  

When it came to casting a white woman in the role of an Asian man, Marvel claimed this break in source material to be a defiance of racial stereotypes present in the comic; however, when it came to the development of Iron Fist, this did not hold true. 

Picture by Marc Faletti via Flickr Creative Commons.

Created in the 1970s, Iron Fist is about a young billionaire who, after losing his parents, becomes an expert in martial arts and the Iron Fist, which gave him mystical powers when he harnesses his chi. Rooted in this storyline are the controversies of the white savior complex and Orientalist thinking, which resulted in petitions calling for the production company to cast an Asian American actor.  

By casting an Asian American actor in the role, Marvel could have given a chance for diversity and representation by retelling what was an outdated, racist story. Marvel, however, decided to stay true to its source material by casting actor Finn Jones, who pleaded through his Twitter for audiences to give the show a chance before judging it when faced with backlash of diversity.  

So here we are, a month after “Iron Fist” was released on Netflix. Since this release, I have withheld any judgment until I had watched all thirteen episodes of the show.

And painstaking, it was.

For starters, let’s begin with the title of each episode:

     Episode 1- “Snow Gives Way”

     Episode 2- “Shadow Hawk Takes Flight”

     Episode 3- “Rolling Thunder Cannon Punch”

     Episode 4- “Eight Diagram Dragon Palm”

     Episode 5- “Under Leaf Pluck Lotus”

     Episode 6- “Immortal Emerges from Cave”

     Episode 7- “Felling Tree with Roots”

     Episode 8- “The Blessing of Many Fractures”

     Episode 9- “The Mistress of All Agonies”

     Episode 10- “Black Tiger Steals Heart”

     Episode 11- “Lead Horse Back to Stable”

     Episode 12- “Bar the Big Boss”

     Episode 13- “Dragon Plays with Fire”

Most of these titles are the names of moves or sequences in Shaolin kung-fu. Never mind that they contributed little to no significance to the plotlines, but hey, let’s just throw them in there because it contributes to the mystic, exoticness of Asian cultures. The rest are phrases associated with Asian stereotypes in speaking in short, ambiguous phrases or proverbs that don’t directly answer the prompt. An example, in particular, is Episode 9, “The Mistress of All Agonies,” which centers on the capture of Madame Gao, a drug lord associated with the Hand, an evil organization. When Colleen addresses Gao’s capture, saying “I don’t understand why we had to bring her here,” Danny replies, “Never let the enemy choose the battlefield. Always work from a position of strength.” Sage advice indeed, Danny.  

But I continued to watch until the last scene of the last episode faded into black, and what I have gathered from the series is that it was laughably bad, cringeworthy, and sad.

Let’s rewind all the way to the first episode, which introduced us to Daniel “Danny” Rand, the Iron Fist, when he returns to New York and runs into Colleen Wing, a martial arts instructor teaching in a dojo. His first interaction with her included him mansplaining to her about her teaching, culture, and martial arts skills. But that doesn’t even take the cake; what takes the cake is his assumption of her identity by speaking to her in Mandarin, to which she tells him to speak English or Japanese, not having spoken Mandarin since she was a child.  

Damn, Daniel (Rand), back at it again with the white guy assuming what kind of Asian you are.  

That’s not even the worst of it; while watching Iron Fist, which Jones lauded for its progressiveness in the diversity of its casting, I realized one big, overarching theme: The Asian characters are overwhelmingly evil.  

Don’t take my word for it; here’s a list of the major Asian characters in Iron Fist and their associations:

     Colleen Wing – evil turned good

     Madame Gao- evil

     Bakuto- evil

     Davos- good turned evil

Not to mention minor characters such as Zhou Cheng, Gao’s henchman, whose actor, Lewis Tan, originally read for the role of Danny Rand.

And that’s the sad thing. In a story heavily influenced by Eastern culture, it’s still not an Asian or Asian American story. Instead, it is a story about orientalizing the East in which the Western male must save the world. While this may have been normalized throughout history in the forms of the Fu Manchu or Dragon Lady trope, it is now the 21st century, where our world has progressed from creating stereotypes to breaking them. Instead, Iron Fist has further perpetuated these stereotypes. What’s sad is that Marvel will most likely blame the poor ratings on the lack of interest in the concept of Iron Fist rather than the poor writing that fetishizes the East.

Marvel, you’ve always prided yourself on the progressive storylines you’ve created, but Iron Fist has failed because of your refusal to do so. And that’s the thing: what you’ve prided yourself in doing was only when it was convenient for you. While casting an Asian American in the role of Danny Rand would have been progressive of you, it was not convenient for you. You almost did, but in the end, you went with what you thought would pull in more viewers.

I have no doubt that you eventually will– when the time is right, when others have stepped to the plate and set a precedent when you have not.  

So while I love Marvel productions, I will not be sitting down for future seasons of Iron Fist; it’s just too infuriating and sad.  

 

On April 16, 2014, nearly 470 passengers and crew rode on the ferry MV Sewol to Jeju Island in South Korea, of which 325 high school students anticipated a weekend of fun. Instead, 250 of them and 50 more passengers and crew were killed as the ferry capsized and sank.

Three years later on April 12, operations to recover the ferry were finally successful, and the ferry was brought onto land. Nine bodies were still considered missing.

Despite the tremendous loss of lives, the tragedy has received very little coverage in recent years, but in 2017, UCLA’s Korean Culture Night aimed to imprint the event onto our memories and memorialize the many victims with “A Passing of Time.”

“I felt like it was very necessary, especially for college students, to hear about people who were their age that passed away in such a tragic way. I think I just used KCN as an avenue to tell that story, to tell the people but in a relatable manner,” said Diane Kim, director of KCN.

At an audience-packed Royce Hall on April 13, we are introduced to seven high school students, each with their own backstory and dreams. We first meet Nari (Eunice Lim), a very studious schoolgirl with extremely controlling parents and dreams of becoming a professional Korean fan dancer, and her dramatic friend, Yeji (Kaylin So), who also wishes to pursue the same ambition. Next, we see Jihoon (Sean Choi), the rich, spoiled kid with uncaring parents, clashing with Jun (Alex Hwang), an outgoing transfer student, for Nari’s love (Jun does win this battle). Jihoon’s clumsy friend, Cheol Su (Andrew Lee), longs to meet his little sister who lives with a divorced parent, and Jun’s friend, Minjae (Kevin Joung), supports his little sister on his own as their parents are constantly working. Finally, we meet recently-fired-barista Jungha (Rebecca Choi), a short-tempered girl with an overworking single mother and an obsession with K-pop band BTS.

Through the students, the audience members were able to relive parts of their high school days: constant studying, underage drinking and clubbing, dealing with parents, longing for parents, guys fighting over a girl, and reaching our goals. We were the students … until the disaster.

The students, along with Jungha and Minji’s sisters, huddled together as the ferry began to tilt. Audio tracks of a ship groaning and an emergency alarm echoed through Royce while Hanoolim’s poongmul team marched around the group playing a macabre beat. The intensity of the traditional drums only increased, overpowering the screams of the group, until complete silence and darkness consumed the stage.

A few minutes passed. Stage lights reappeared, and we came upon a wake. We witnessed parents and survivors in anguish. Mothers and fathers screamed that they could have done more, regretting saying words they should not have or not saying words they should have. Survivors questioned why they could not have helped more during the moment and wondered why such an unfair incident even occurred. Jihoon, one of the survivors, left us with a final soliloquy: People tell us to move on, but “we will always remember our friends. Please do not forget them.”

After extensive characterization and humanization of our beloved characters, we reached the climax of the show. The sinking of the Sewol ferry was not just about a captain abandoning the ship, a ferry capsizing, and people dying. It was about lives that could have been, dreams that were to be fulfilled, people like many of the individuals at UCLA that had names and are children to parents. Regardless of the passing of time, these people meant something to us and others, and as such, they should always be remembered, even though they are no longer with us.

Executive producer of KCN Eddie Kang expressed, “I hope [the audience] will leave knowing more … about this incident that happened three years ago, and that they’ll go back and just remember the people who were lost in this tragedy.”

 

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