ARTS & CULTURE

What keeps you entertained? What’s part of your culture?

Currently, the Broadway performance of “Miss Saigon” — a musical about yet another Asian woman abandoned by her white male lover — is going on tour across the United States. As if to set back the damage, East West Players’ “Vietgone,” a story about a pair of lovers who are “refugees fleeing the Vietnam War”, premiered early November.

Whether it is Miss Saigon, Madame Butterfly, or its countless variants and knock offs, these stories dramatize a doomed interracial relationship between two lovers and is set in consideration of a social, historical background of intersection identities — all of which supposedly make them an intellectual narrative, but instead, they eventually fall flat as stories that entertain no one but the entertainers themselves.

To exacerbate the problem, characters in these stories do not go through substantial character development (or at least any positive ones), so they end up as cliche characters that end up portraying negative gender and racial stereotypes.

In “Miss Saigon,” the star crossed lovers this time are Kim, the Vietnamese dancer/bargirl, and Chris, the American soldier. They meet at the backdrop of the Vietnam War, of which the audience does not get any meaningful knowledge of other than it was a senseless war. When the Vietnam War ended with South Vietnam and American defeat, Chris and Kim are separated — he returned to America while she kept working as a bargirl. After a time skip, Chris, who is now married, discovers that he has a son with Kim named Tam and decides to support the mother and son abroad. However, Kim, wanting the best for her child, makes the “ultimate sacrifice” and shoots herself so that Chris can take Tam to America.

As Diep Tran wrote in an article on American Theater, this story sends the message “that Vietnamese women are victims, Vietnamese men are villains, and Americans are well-meaning buffoons.”

Moreover, Kim’s helplessness and dependency on Chris for happiness reinforces not only a gender hierarchy, but also reflects a racial one. Kim thought that it would be better for her to die than to stay with Tam in Thailand, suggesting that America is a far better place, and Tam, who is biracial, can thus, by default, integrate into this great nation.

Regardless of the stereotypes that Miss Saigon perpetuates, the reality is that mainstream shows likes these are the ones that create opportunities for Asian American actors and actresses on bigger stages. It is a controversy as to whether Asian Americans should take part in these productions, as a proper job that pays. But without a doubt, these shows and productions serves to disconnect people from who or what the war was actually about while romanticizing it into an American fiction about an American war.

South Asian. Lived in East Asia. International student. Daughter of immigrants. South campus major. Where is the “artist” in these labels? Where is the Disney Princess movie being made about my life?

Are the mammoth residential buildings housing hundreds of families in Hong Kong not worthy of Walt Disney’s magic broadcast worldwide?

As a young Indian girl who grew up in Hong Kong, I struggled to find the words I needed to express myself. Silence was easier, except when trying to guess what dinner was from the spices’ aromas in my mom’s kitchen, or trying to guess what my dad brought from the roadside stalls after a long day at work. Having ju cheung fan right before a dinner with paneer tikka masala was not uncommon at home. The intensely different textures and tastes were second nature to my mouth. Yet the defiance of my mom’s cooking or my existence was not ever worthy of celebration in a city where Brownface is prevalent throughout mainstream media. My parent’s murtis and rituals during Diwali were too “foreign” and “weird” for “Asia’s World City”. For that young girl, I threw myself into INDUS at UCLA in hopes for a space to celebrate my messy identities and to find the words that I could never find even amid calligraphy during Chinese New Year, or henna (ha…) patterns adorning my hands.

The United States of America is no better.

The land of opportunities, filled with diversity, was sold to me at a UCLA information session. Yet here, it became even harder to determine my identity. I never expected to be so sharply pigeonholed into the paths of either doctor or engineer. Nor did I expect the persistent, probing question, “but no, where are you really from?”. The competing Cantonese, Hindi, Sindhi and English always leaked a “foreign” accent that can’t be “hella” enough. I was still too “weird” for this place.

What is the purpose of a “cultural melting pot” when all we do is tokenize the members of it and feign representation; it’s really just a chamberpot of lies and further disempowerment.

Whether in predominantly white spaces, or AAPI spaces, I am told that my narrative does not matter; that the narrative of my resilient grandparents, who all fled religious persecution 70 years ago does not matter.

Every day as a South Asian in the diaspora is a struggle that is unacknowledged. Even writing for Pacific Ties Newsmagazine that chose to rebrand itself from AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) to APIDA (Asian Pacific Islander Desi American) is a tip of a hat to that struggle of the expression that we try to bring forth.

I am in awe of the resilience of the artists that are coming to the first ever UCLA South Asian Art Week, and I am in awe of the students I have worked with in the past six months to make this series of events happen in a world where fundings for the arts has decreased even more.

For that young girl in me who was unsure of how to express herself, I will try to wipe her tears when she realized she would have to work thrice as hard to express herself as an Indian, as a girl, as the kid who was labelled the “foreigner” in her Chinese local school.

You finally get to hear from successful authors that look like older versions of you in a publishing panel on May 31st.

Here’s to my best friend Christina, who dragged me to every art gallery as I slowly fell in love with contemporary art created by people of color, who resisted conforming to stereotypes of banality and lack of creativity. She made this happen for me in a city not known to be “cultured enough” for the arts. She made this happen when conversations about diaspora are always America-centric or Euro-centric, and I struggled to find a place for myself.

Come to the artist mixer to meet South Asian artists, performers, actors and create community with them on June 1st.

Here’s to the third culture freshman who was enthusiastic to embrace diversity and was looking for community to bring back expression to her life and the lives of so many of her friends, who forgot it at all as they paved their own ways towards being doctors or engineers. We were never just scientific professionals. Let’s reclaim the arts from the ostentatious monuments created by centuries-dead kings, and breathe life into ourselves to create more art.

We speak now on May 31st during a spoken word night, and we celebrate the films created by our peers in a film festival on June 2nd.

Here’s to fighting the fractures in our own community, to fighting APIDA hierarchies to actually elevate Desis within this strange encompassing label, and to resisting power structures that stamp down on the hands and labour of people of color every day, whether it is on this campus or beyond.

Here’s to the stories that were “too mundane” or “too ethnic” to make the final cut in the galleries, the publishing lists, and the performances.

Here’s to always celebrating the diasporic identities we have found for ourselves, whether temporarily or permanently.

Join us in our journey to create community for generations of the past, present and future.

Join us Week 9 for the inaugural UCLA South Asian Art Week.

Gaginang.

That may not mean much to the average UCLA student. However, Loan Chung, the current Teo-Chew Association (TCA) secretary and incoming internal president, truly appreciates the meaning of the word: ‘Gaginang’ is a common phrase that Teochew people use to connect with each other, wherever they are in the world.

“What I love about being Teochew is that when we say ‘Gaginang’ (‘our people’), we truly mean it,” said Chung. “There is no such thing as strangers in our world.”

What is Teochew?

Teochew is a dialect native to the eastern province of Guangdong, China, that preserves many old Chinese pronunciations and words no longer found among the popular modern dialects, such as Mandarin or Cantonese.

However, Teochew speakers aren’t found just in China. You can also find these dialect speakers in regions like Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and even Los Angeles.

Teo-Chew Association (TCA) has been at UCLA since 2004.

TCA member Qinhao Xu finds the language to be an essential element in unifying members into a family. “One of the most memorable experience is having a language workshop during the weekly meeting, where we practice our native language Teochew,” said Xu. “This is what make this so special because most of us are second generation immigrants.”

Teochew is considered a dying language – it’s difficult for younger generations overseas to practice the language outside of the family since it’s not nearly as popular as Mandarin or Cantonese. Merely finding others who speak the language is a challenge in of itself.

TCA provides an opportunity for people to meet others who share a similar cultural background while also meeting others who speak the language. “We want to keep our language and culture alive while also creating a place where people of our background can find a ‘family’ away from home,” noted co-president Victor Tran.

TCA at UCLA.

Teochew manages to bring multiple campuses together. The TCA associations from UCLA, UCI, and UCSD held their first joint banquet this year. Tran treasures the memories he has made with them.

“My most memorable experience of being [co-]president of TCA would have to be the first joint banquet this year,” he said. “Although it was very hectic, it was a joy to be able to work with the sister organizations from the other UC schools for one big joint banquet. I enjoyed seeing many of the members from all of the campuses interacting together and having fun.”

UCLA TCA, UCSD TCA, UCI TCA, and the main Southern California TCA branch

You don’t have to speak Teochew or be of Teochew background in order to join – TCA welcomes anyone who is interested. Although TCA is a smaller organization on campus, it’s this size that allows such a tight-knit community where everyone can get to know each other. The organization doesn’t have active membership requirements; its members are simply passionate people who care not only about Teochew culture but also about the well-being of the club and its members.

While there won’t be any more meetings this quarter for TCA, check out their Facebook page for regular updates on meetings, socials, and other events. Check out the website for more details as well.

“Only through these personal histories, and personal goals, can we determine the narrative of modern Filipino cuisine.”

Alexandra Cuerdo is a UCLA alumna and director of “ULAM: Main Dish,” a food documentary that screens Saturday at the Million Dollar Theatre as part of the Los Angeles Times’ Los Angeles Food Bowl.

“ULAM: Main Dish” follows the rise of Filipino food in the United States and features interviews with Filipino American chefs. In the film, chefs such as Alvin Cailan and Nicole Ponseca discuss topics ranging from their personal histories to the difficulties of working with food from what is often considered a “third-world country.”

“Many interviews verge beyond the personal,” Cuerdo said. “We discuss crab mentality, the effects of colonialism, the need for support from the Filipino community.”

Through discussing complex and varied topics, Cuerdo hoped to create an honest and compelling depiction of modern Filipino cuisine — one that included faithful narratives of the Filipino American chefs she worked with.

“The chefs behind ​ULAM: Main Dish​ come from all walks of life — from Michelin-starred line cooks to high school dropouts, successful restaurateurs to first time shop owners. All are highly acclaimed by critics and fans alike, all forerunners of the Filipino food movement.”

The idea for a Filipino food documentary was originally conceived by Cuerdo’s father and his friend, although it never came to fruition. The thought stayed with Cuerdo until 2015, when she pitched it to John Floresca, who would become the film’s co-producer and cinematographer, and they began working on “ULAM” together.

Behind the scenes with producer Rey Cuerdo (left) and director Alexandra Cuerdo (right)
from ULAM: Main Dish. Photo courtesy of Kidlat Entertainment.

“Ultimately, we strive to document personal stories,” Cuerdo said, “with greater implications for the way we think about food in the context of our lives.”

“ULAM” screens Saturday at the Million Dollar Theatre, presented by AMBOY and Grand Central Market. For tickets, directions, and further information, visit the event page here.

 

*** NO SPOILERS IN THIS ARTICLE ***

The 2016 Japanese animated film “君の名は” (Kimi No Na Wa) or “Your Name” has topped the renowned Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” as the world’s highest grossing film of all time with a total of $353,754,471 as of April 26, 2017.

Critically acclaimed, “Your Name” has a 98% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has been released in select theaters in the United States since April 7 this year.

With a high audience approval rate and positive critical reception, the director of the animated feature, Makoto Shinkai, has been praised and even dubbed as the “New Miyazaki” of his generation of filmmakers.

“Your Name” is story about a countryside girl Mitsuha, who helps run the family shrine, meeting an ordinary Tokyo boy Taki, who aspires to be an architect, through a series of mysterious but purposeful body swapping in their dreams.

Like Studio Ghibli, Shinkai and his team uses the traditional animation method. In other words, each frame of the film is hand drawn.

Both Shinkai and Miyazaki excel at eliciting emotions from their audiences and pay meticulous attention to details — all Miyazaki characters have their own habits and unique quirks, and Shinkai’s backgrounds are breathtaking with an emphasis on the usage of light.

However, Shinkai himself, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, said that “I don’t [think] there is anyone who can make films like him [Miyazaki].”

Stylistically, the two have different approaches to a film. Miyazaki’s works tend to have a focus on a character’s journey, and he does not have the story finished and ready when the production starts.

Shinkai on the other hand would have a very complete story board and even voice over the characters himself. In the case of “Your Name,” Shinkai had been writing the screenplay since spring of 2014.

Another fundamental difference is that Shinkai and Miyazaki have different target audiences and messages.

Miyazaki’s world is usually fantastical and imagined while many of Shinkai’s stories and settings tend to be based on the real world.

In the same interview Shinkai explained: “There is… the factor of eras: When he [Miyazaki] began making anime, it was during the time of rapid economic growth in Japan, and I think he felt his films had the power to change the world.”

Meanwhile, Shinkai said his inspirations are primarily from his own life experiences, environments, and, in particular, his own adolescence, saying that he “can’t draw anything with a sense of reality if it doesn’t come from a place I’m connected to with my own two feet…”

For the last decade, Shinkai’s works have been gradually recognized overseas, however, Western media has dubbed him “the new Miyazaki” or “Japan’s next-generation anime creator.” Shinkai thinks “that’s mostly because people in other countries think of Japanese animation as being just Miyazakisan and then everybody else.”

Although central themes in “Your Name” overlap with those of Miyazaki films, they are presented in a different perspective.

While both directors can effectively appeal to audience’s emotions, they achieve this differently.  

Makoto Shinkai is not the “Next Miyazaki.” It is important to not lump any successful non-Western creators in the same pile simply because of their predecessors’ similar success or ethnicity, but to rather acknowledge every creator’s work as an individual message to its audience.

The 2017 Taiwanese Culture Night (TCN), “歲月靜好,” or its English title “Tangled in Times,” took place  at the UCLA’s Ralph Freud Playhouse last Saturday.

A moving performance about two pairs of lovers struggling to embrace love, this year’s TCN not only showcased Taiwanese history, culture, and food, but also intended to send a universal message to audiences of different backgrounds: to follow your heart and be brave in love.

Prior to the showing, Nhi Vo, a first-year biology student, and Cindy Tran, a fourth-year psychobiology student, expressed how they were looking forward to the show and seeing their friends perform. Vo said, “We’re curious. We performed for Vietnamese Culture Night and want to see what [TCN is] like.”

Another student, Young Joon Dakota Im, a third-year cognitive science student, said that he was looking forward to the musical performances of Taukappella.

TCN’s performance began by introducing a couple, Shi Jing Deng (Charles Teng) and Ling Shang Yang (Sandy Yang), who are young adults in the beginning of World War II.

After the war, the couple appears in Taiwan and, while they are in love and engaged, Mr. Deng, who suffered a debilitating injury in his leg, decides to leave Ling Shang because he did not wish to become a burden.

Fast forward to modern times, the audience is introduced to Zhe Xiang (Stanley Hsu), an interior decoration designer who has had a crush on and later confesses to Pin Ru (Marian Sheen), a doctor who graduated from a prestigious medical school as valedictorian.

However, Pin Ru is later diagnosed with stage III cancer and she cannot accept Zhe Xiang’s feelings because she feels that it would be unfair for him to be in a relationship with a girl who may not have a future.

Mr. Deng, who is actually one of Pin Ru’s patients, visits and tells her his story about leaving Ling Shang — how he regretted it and is trying to find her. Upon hearing this, Pin Ru decides to be more positive and face her mutual feelings for Zhe Xiang, who she then begins dating.

Later, Zhe Xiang finds out that Mr. Deng is the man who his adoptive grandma, Ling Shang, had been waiting for. Ling Shang even named her restaurant after Mr. Deng, hoping that if he ever passed by the shop, he would notice and have a change of heart.

Unfortunately, Pin Ru passed away, but she told Zhe Xiang that she was content and left him her savings so that Zhe Xiang, who had quit his job by then, could help his grandma remodel and bring new life to the restaurant.

At the finale, the restaurant gets remodeled as well as renamed in memory of Pin Ru. Zhe Xiang also re-introduces Mr. Deng to Ling Shang, who at last meet again.

Ling Shang and Mr. Deng reunited.

TCN’s wonderful performance concluded with the audience’s loud applause, laughter, and tears.

TCN Curtain Call

In hopes of better understanding the material, Pacific Ties interviewed TCN directors Darren Ho and Chiao Wen Lan after the show:

  1. The opening scene is set in 1945, Tian Jin, and the newspaper boy mentioned  a Japanese attack in 卢沟桥 (Lu Gou Qiao). However, Lu Gou Qiao is known as the site for the office beginning of the Japanese invasion of China in July 7, 1937. In addition, the year 1945 is when the Japanese officially surrendered. Therefore, I was wondering which historical event(s) the opening scene is actually alluding to and why was this setting chosen in particular?

We made a mistake in our first slide with the timeline. The opening scene was set in 1937 instead of 1945, as you pointed out. We chose Lu Gou Qiao Incident because it opened the prelude of WWII in Asia, and it conveyed critical information as we tried to portray the time in which our grandparents lived in.

  1. The title of this year’s Taiwanese Culture Night in Chinese, “歲月靜好,”  has a different meaning and connotation than the English title “Tangled in Times.” Why? Is there a reason for this difference?

“歲月靜好” comes from the words written by 胡蘭成 (Lanchen Hu) for his wedding with writer 張愛玲 (Eileen Chang) in 1944: “胡蘭成張愛玲簽訂終身,結為夫婦,願使歲月靜好,現世安穩.” The term “歲月靜好” means the hope of a peaceful life in the future, which has both a personal and political implication during the war in 1944. We believe that the stories of people and places are the result of tangled web of interaction between people, places, and time. The English title of the play, “Tangled in Times,” was chosen based on the storyline as we followed the stories of two pairs of star-crossed lovers across generations as they thrived to find happiness.

  1. What is the central message or theme that you hoped address in the Taiwanese community through the performance?

The message that we’re trying to get across applies not only to the Taiwanese community, but also every other ethnic group: to have the confidence to be who you truly are, to have the courage to truly love and be loved, and to cherish your loved ones around you.

  1. What were some of your favorite moments when making the production?

There were so many fond memories of making this year’s production… seeing the story came to life with dedicated actors and actresses, and bonding with a very talented team that is just like a family. Live theater gives us a chance to really appreciate what is happening right there in front of us. I love how audience came together to laugh and perhaps tear up as the live performance brought everyone within the story.

Sign In

Reset Your Password