Asian culture finds voice in film

By Jonathan Koepke

Asian American Heritage Month turned to the movies Tuesday night to examine what it means to be an Asian American.

The Presidential Task Force on Asian Americans and the Center for Southeast Asian Studies sponsored the presentation and discussion of the documentary “My America (or Honk if You Love Buddha)” Tuesday night in Wirtz Hall.

The film tells the story of Renee Tajima-Pena’s journey across America in search of an Asian-American identity. Along her way she meets different people from many Asian nations. Her mentor is Victor Wong, an ex-beatnik, ex-photojournalist and actor whose guidance leads her in a Jack Kerouac-like quest for personal, group and social understanding of place.

After the film, anthropology professor Judy Ledgerwood led the audience in discussing different perspectives and ideas about how the film fits into their own understanding of Asian Americans.

“These are questions that can’t really be answered, but just asked,” Ledgerwood said.

During her trip, Tajima-Pena’s escapades bring her in contact with very unique people who all have individual ties to their Asian heritage. The film’s overall goal isn’t to find the one perfect meaning or definition of Asian-American culture, but instead provides a guide to diversity and to breaking down stereotypes and prejudice.

The film also traces the history of Asian-American cultures from different perspectives. From Japanese to Indian and Mong to Philippine, the film finds both the similarities and differences between Asian Americans and other Americans.

The film’s narrator and main character Tajima-Pena says in the film, “In trying to find what it means to be an Asian American, I discovered that I was finding what it means to be American.”

Ledgerwood also will teach Anthropology 302, Asian American Cultures, in the Fall 2001semester. The class will feature both historical and current issues in Asian-American culture.