Introduction: Research Goals
The primary goal of this research project was an investigation into the practice of site-specific North American Asian cultural activism in Vancouver. To this end we visited several key institutions in the city in order to explore what forms of institutionalized representations of Chinese Canadians are currently visible within and outside of Chinatown, both in terms of historical and creative (arts-based) representation and resistance. We approached this project with a spirit of collaboration and spontaneity because we wanted to ensure rigidity would not inhibit learning. Those us who were non Asian were really hoping to find a location to enter into the NAAF discourse in a respectful and authentic manner. Finding self-location was challenging because we wanted to use our various skills and interests that help us learn, but still remain focused on the course material.
We met in person a few times during this period and most days before or after class we would touch base on new ideas or setbacks. Meeting in person has not been easy throughout the project since we all have different schedules, so we’ve also exchanged many emails and text messages, and met for several webinars through google docs. Throughout the project we have all done some individual research and then shared it with the group, with the aim of learning together and gaining perspectives we might have otherwise missed.
Music/ Theatre/ Art
Originally intending to focus our research on arts-based cultural activism in Vancouver, we began searching for promising arts organizations in Vancouver online. The two foremost organizations that we discovered were:
Women in Film + television Vancouver Film Festival
Vancouver International Dance festival
Vancouver Chinese Music Ensemble
We also started looking at events we might attend where we could also engage through discussion and interviews with attendees. We found a women’s film festival which we figured would offer a feminist lens, but did not seem to have any Asian-centric films on days we could attend. We also found that the Vancouver International Dance Festival was beginning that weekend and thought it might be an interesting site of creative representation and voice, again the performance times didn’t work out. That is when we decided to look at interviewing a dancer, or performer.
The movie Mattress looked interesting and relevant, but it wasn’t playing at a time we could attend. “Under the cover of the darkness, Little Boy Lee and his family dump an old mattress in a dirty Strathcona alley. The next day, blame passes from neighbour to neighbour with no one taking responsibility for the abandoned and illegally dumped mattress. As the situation quickly escalates to all-out suburban war, Little Boy Lee has to take responsibility for his actions and clean up the streets.”
We all liked the idea of going to a few interviews, discussions, questions/ planning/ photos
After we decided on going to a few sites, we also wanted to figure out a way to reflect on our learning and engage with the NAAF discourses. We thought about using music, because Brendan was a musician, in some sort of street performance as a way to draw in passers by to conversations about themes discussed in class, particularly representations (or the lack there of) NA Asian’s in history, stereotypes in movies (Hypersecuality—Shimizu, 2007; and stereotypes and Asian male sexuality; Nyuyen & Tu, 2007, Eng, 2001). However, we realised there probably would not be enough time for Brendan to learn New genres of music, and that a performance such as that would take a long time to organize and it might require permits, and just be too large of a task for the day. So, inspired by Tetsuro’s Youtube clips and comedy we decided to do street style interviews. We all thought of questions to ask people and images to print off. We also looked up images and videos about Anna May Wong, Nancy Kwan, Lucy Liu, and comedy by Margaret Cho and Kristina Wong-to explore the hypersexualization of Asian femininity, as as well as media representations. One of our favorite videos was Kristina Wong’s “Reparations for Yellow Fever.” Continue reading
The day began with Brendan and Kate meeting at the school where we rented our camcorder and Brendan printed out the photos we had gathered to use as conversation starters, while Kate printed directions and maps. Alicia picked us up here and we headed to the ferry planning to meet Suki in Vancouver. On the ferry we did some planning for our progress report and the questions we were planning to ask. We considered interviewing people on the ferry, but decided it was best to get the whole group together before we did.
On our bus ride into Vancouver we had an interesting conversation with a nurse, Lee Hindrichs RN, who used to work in Vancouver hospital. When we mentioned what our course was about she shared the story of her recollection of working in the 90’s and having young Asian women coming in after having “fairly pathetic” suicide attempts because their white boyfriend(s) had taken them home, introduced them to their parents, and not proposed marriage. Apparently this was not an uncommon occurrence, and she said it happened every few weeks. She also noted many Chinese Canadian grandmothers still had bound feet.
As we arrived in Chinatown, we explored murals and storefronts and the ways in which the confirmed stereotypes about what it is to be Chinese.
We were over analysing everything and it made it hard to know what was relevant, but some of what we observed was certainly interesting. The somewhat stereotypical and frozen in time way people were portrayed in some murals was telling about the quick snapshots people take about what it means to be an Asian Canadian, when they visit Chinatown. The way a kitchen store was divided into hyper-asian in one window and more European in another; one window displayed rice cookers and a large fan and the other high end French style cookware with no accessories. The Chinese culture is engulfed with an Asian homogenization as exotic vs. the euro-western side that exemplifies a modern and clean aesthetic.Even the matchbooks we saw in a store had stereotypes. One was a large Asian man laughing (the sort of comic relief character) and a kung fu fighter on the otherside. The other matchbook has a sexualized attractive asian man, but when we turned it over it was a picture of a white girl. While these were just matchbooks (Alicia in particular) could not get over how the “sexy” Asian guy had a white girl on the back, and the other were just images of the two most common stereotypes of Asian males. It was really bizarre. We also noticed the empty storefronts, a strong aboriginal art presences, and a lot of urban/hip shops (hair salons, design studios/cafe’s/etc.).
Cultural Center Overview
We started off at the Chinese Cultural Center and museum, where, as we expected we saw Chinese Canadian’s represented through a historical lens. Masculinist, militarily driven, and immigrant stereotypes were represented. Women were relegated to one small area—women who has successfully broken into areas predominantly occupied by males—a lawyer, one in the navy, etc. The museum displayed many Chinese Canadians who were merchants and often times women were referred to someone’s wife or daughter, nameless and not recognized. As suspected this experiences solidified the type of Asian representation talked about by Gary Okihiro.In an attempt to re-center women as Okihiro suggests we examined the cultural center with a feminist lens, looking for the women and their stories. Where were they when their husbands were brought to Europe to clean up after World Wars or to North America to build the railroad? The answers were not easy to find.
Centre A is Canada’s only public art gallery dedicated to contemporary Asian visual art. This gallery was really fascinating and has done a variety of work with Asian identified artists and collaborators including: Yoko Ono, Ho Tam, Vanessa Kwan, Young Hae Chang Heavy Industries, Hong Kong Exile, Khan Lee and Subodh Gupta. The exhibit we saw, ‘Transgression/ Cantosphere’ dealt with language and those whose voices are valued and heard, which applied well to what we’ve been learning. Below is the brochure. The cantonese on the front was a deliberate act by the artist to disrupt the common eurocentrism and catering to english speaker in chinatown, and the arts. Since we have read things like the yell-oh girls poetry the importance of storytelling through personal art was something we really wanted to investigate.