Intoxicating and irreverent, Renee Tajima-Peña's documentary and Sundance Film Festival award-winner, MY AMERICA...OR HONK IF YOU LOVE BUDDHA, a rollicking ride across this changing terrain.
In MY AMERICA, the filmmaker recalls her childhood--back in the days when her vacationing family would cross five states lines without ever catching a glimpse of another Asian face. Returning to the road more than 20 years later, she finds that new immigration has suddenly put Asian Americans on the map. With Latinos, they have become the country's fastest growing ethnic group. Tajima-Peña sets out to search for the new American identity that will arise from the multi-culti hoi-palloi that is America at the end of the 20th century.
Her metaphorical guide is the films road guru, Victor Wong. An iconoclastic actor (JOY LUCK CLUB, DIM SUM, THE LAST EMPEROR), ex-photojournalist, ex-Beat Generation painter and wanderer, Wong was immortalized by Kerouac in the novel, Big Sur. In MY AMERICA, the 70-year-old Wong emerges as a complex, Buddha-like character who has traveled the currents of post-war American life: the Beat Generation, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War era.
His story frames Tajima-Peñas travels, as she discovers how deeply Asian Americans have been entangled in the politics of race. In New Orleans, 8th generation Louisianan Filipinas describe growing up as honorary whites in the Jim Crow South. In Seattle, a pair of Korean rappers, known as The Seoul Brothers, express the political awakening of a new generation. Through it all, Tajima-Peña delivers comic projectiles at the stereotypes that color attitudes towards Asians, with characters like Mr. Choi, a fortune cookie-maker-entrepreneur who she dubs a veritable Horatio Alger on amphetamines.
But beyond the critique of racism, Tajima-Peña also explores the challenge for Asian Americans now that they are no longer the invisible minority. Refusing to be cast as second class citizens, Asian Americans are grappling with the question, what then is their role in the public life of the nation? In Mississippi and Arkansas, the legendary activist Yuri Kochiyama - a contemporary of Malcolm X - traces the roots of her own passion for justice to her years of incarceration at a World War II internment camp for Japanese Americans. In Los Angeles, a young student named Alyssa Kang defies her mother's expectations and risks arrest to protest anti-immigrant legislation.
As film critic B. Ruby Rich writes of MY AMERICA, "The real road that Tajima-Peña is traversing is the delicate one separating public and private, group identity and individual personality, and she ain't no tourist. If Asian Americans have too often been cast as spectators in the drama of black/white America, MY AMERICA restores their centrality."
(DVD 87 minutes)