Thursday, November 18, 2010

In Between

Greetings, my Hip Hapa Homeez! Welcome back to Watermelon Sushi World, dude.

While the majority of interviews posted on this blog involve biracial people, we also like to include stories of transracial adoptees and those who promote crossing cultures. In other words, we are all about mixing it up.

Like multiethnic folks, this week's guest has also experienced a sense of not belonging. But instead of ethnicity causing her discomfort, it’s generational. Pei Ju Chou considers herself “in between” two generations. Among Asian Americans, those who arrive in the U.S. from another country are referred to as being “first generation”. Their children who are born here are called “second generation”. But, sometimes, families migrate to America after their children have been born and raised in their birth countries. Those kids arrive in the U.S. steeped in their original country's culture and speaking English with accents because their first language was that of their parents. For them, developing a new identity is a complicated process. And, the older they are when they move here, the more adjustments they must make to fit in.

Below, Pei Ju Chou explains what she means by the term “1.5 generation” and the documentary film, Stuck on the Boat, she made about the subject. That's the filmmaker in the photo, below.

Q: What's a nice “1.5 generation” girl like you doing making a documentary about the “1.5” generation experience?

A: I wanted to provide some sort of explanation, or even affirmation, to other struggling “1.5 generation” kids. Growing up, it was always tough for me to find a place to fit in. I was never quite "American" enough to my friends in the U.S., but in the eyes of Taiwanese people, I was too American. What is this identity of being “in between”? What the hell am I then? That was the question I would ask myself everyday when I looked in the mirror during high school. Through talking to a few friends while going to the University of Washington, I started to notice a pattern of experiences for people like me. It was a shared pain and a shared confusion. And, there was my inspiration. I wanted to share this collective voice and experience with others who did not understand. I wanted to use this documentary almost as a shout-out to those other “1.5 generation” kids out there and say to them, "Hey, it's alright to be stuck in between...We are the ‘1.5 generation’ and proud of it!"

Q: Who are your parents and how did you grow up?  

A: My parents are both Taiwanese. I was born and raised in Taiwan until I was 10-years old. It’s kind of funny to think about it. I remember when I was eight, I found out I had a whole bunch of aunties and cousins that lived in the U.S. I remember asking my dad, "We have American relatives?!" After that, we flew over for a few visits over the next couple of years. Finally, my dad decided to move us all there. Both he and my mom believed that it would give my brother and me better educations and better opportunities. That's my grandmother, mother and me above. And, in the photo below, I'm with my father.

Q: Why do you refer to yourself as “1.5”?

A: I wasn't born in the U.S. so I'm not considered second generation. But I'm not quite like my parents--they were born and raised completely in Taiwan and are first generation. So, I felt like I was stuck in-between just like the title of my documentary, Stuck on the Boat. The boat has arrived in America, but the people are still stuck on it. I wanted to be proud of this uncertain identity, and I am comfortable with who I am. The “1.5 generation” is a title I have chosen to claim as a form of empowerment and statement of who I am. Here I am with my brother and cousins in the picture below.

Q: There are mixed-race people, people who are first generation, and people who cross cultures that all experience isolation. What makes it so difficult to be “1.5”?

A: I believe in “intersectionality”. We all come from different backgrounds. All of those specific backgrounds make our experiences as a group unique, and we have our own struggles and difficulties. The “1.5 generation’s” struggle is different in the way that we were once accepted by our home country, and all of a sudden we went from the "in-crowd" to being an "outcast". It is this shift that makes it difficult for most people to accept. Think about it; you grow up thinking and knowing you are one thing, and one move within a short period of time shifts the whole reality around. What you think you know is no longer valid or true. You're kind of stuck in this third space--what I call "cultural limbo"--where you don't really know how to be nor act. It's a tough place to be. I think a lot of mixed-race people and those who cross cultures can resonate with this "limbo" experience one way or another. Like I said, each group has a unique place in society that makes all our experiences different. We all struggle. I'm not saying anyone is struggling more or less. It's a matter of sharing and understanding these pains.

Q: Who were some of your interviewees?

A: Most of them were my personal friends who agreed to share their stories after I told them about what I was doing. Most of them were happy to learn about the “1.5 generation” as a term, and happy to be able to identify themselves as part of that group. 

Among them, Areum Chong, with me below left, was the girl who first told me about “1.5 generation”. She and I shared very similar backgrounds. She moved here from Korea when she was 14, and grew up in Olympia with her aunt and uncle. She told me how the “1.5 generation” was a special generation. She said that we are the only ones that can still absorb the best of both worlds. We have a foundation in our roots because we grew up in Asia, and we learned to absorb western concepts as we grew up in America.

Another interviewee I had was actually born here, but he felt so strongly connected with his Asian roots he personally requested to be part of the documentary. This was how Derrick convinced me: He said, "It's not necessarily 1 is 1, 2 is 2. The 1.5 is everything in between as a matter of a continuum. It is also about a shared experience that makes a person 1.5." Even though Derrick was born in the U.S., he always felt like an outcast at school and among his peers. This is the experience that convinced me to interview him. That’s me with Derrick below.

Q: What is the most significant thing you learned from making this film?

A: We all have some form of struggle to belong somewhere growing up whether we're part of the “1.5 generation” or not. But it’s really what’s in your mind that makes you or breaks you. One common pattern that kept recurring when I was making this film was how the interviewees all said something about "acceptance". There will always be this uncertainty with our identities, and there will always be a struggle between our American peers and our Asian parents. Eventually, we just get used to it and accept it as what it is. It's about embracing ambiguity and being comfortable with who we are. I really hope this theme will resonate with other “non-1.5 generation-ers”. It's about embracing our identity and finding our places.

Q: What are your future plans with Stuck on the Boat?

A: I haven't thought all that much about it. I just want to move forward and capture more genuine Asian American experiences on film and share them with the world. Like my tagline on Pookii (my blog), I want to depict Asian America one story at a time. I’m finishing up my next film about my family restaurant experience, which I think will be a more upbeat and fun documentary. I just hope my “1.5 generation” film has made a difference to someone out there, even if it's just one person.

Thank you, Pei, for enlightening us about “1.5 generation”.

Below are Pei’s links:

And that, Hip Hapa Homeez, is going to be it until January 2011. Your Hip Hapa is taking the next month off to reorganize and regroup. We’ve got multiple projects in development, so please stay tuned to learn more about them.

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Until January 5, I will still be…

Your Hip Hapa,

1 comment:

Wyatt said...

Thanks for a great article. My parents are interracial but I am a cat so it doesn't really effect my identity.