Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Home

My initial reaction to Christine telling us that the theme of this class was going to be “Home”, I honestly didn’t quite understand. It didn’t quite register in my mind to associate the Asian American books that we would be reading with the theme of “home”. In response to the prompt for this week, when I think of “home”, I think of more than one place. Like many of you already know, I wasn’t born here, I was born in France. My parents are from Vietnam and I, personally, have never been to Vietnam and wish very much to go there soon! Through the vivid descriptions of my parents and my relatives, I have a picture of Vietnam (specifically my mother’s hometown of Saigon) in my head that I will never forget and someday, hope to compare to the real thing.

Although I have never physically been there, I consider Vietnam somewhat of a virtual home. It is where my parents were born and bred and where my parents’ parents were born and bred. And on a more relevant matter, it is where my parents were taught the same culture ideas and values that they have taught my brother and me. So in that sense, it was really important that I don’t forget that I am very much Vietnamese just as I am American. I can relate to the character of Gogol in The Namesake in the aspect that in the end, Gogol realized he needed to hang on to his Indian identity because it makes up very much of who he is.

At the beginning of the semester, for the narrative essay I decided to describe the exact day of my move from France to America down to the very last detail of my leaving our apartment. It was a good experience for me to put down on paper what I remember of it because I hadn’t thought very much about that day in a while. I read my essay again last night and it reminded me of My Country Versus Me and how Wen Ho Lee liked to include little details of his home in the midst of describing his struggle with trying to prove he was innocent of espionage, except I’m not a spy either.

So back to the point, I consider France to have been my home for the first 7 years of my life. Although granted, I didn’t learn any significant life lessons other than don’t touch a burning pot, the environment that I lived in fostered a lot of my family’s struggles as immigrants, as well as my parents’ struggles as newlyweds. We made it as a family though and did pretty well for ourselves until my mother decided that we could do better in America.

Having been in America for the past 12 years, I consider it my main home, more specifically I consider the city of Costa Mesa my home. My family is situated there and stable.

And Precious, I know how you feel about missing home, I’ve been longing to eat my mother’s steak and actually, hear my dad karaoke every night, haha. Don’t worry and hang in there, you will be back to those things soon, no?

I’m sorry I couldn’t do a longer journal entry, I have a final tomorrow! Bye!

Dao Nguyen

Monday, May 5, 2008

What is a Home?

Before taking this class, if someone were to ask me where my home was, I would not hesitate and reply as if it were a question with an obvious answer. But after taking this class this semester and reading the different Asian American novels, I have come to realize that the word “home” can mean many different things to each person. It does not only represent the physical place where you’re living or the place you feel most comfortable, but also a place where you can identify yourself in or with. I have learned that for some people, this concept of a home is very hard to grasp and the question of where your home is can be very challenging to answer. From the six different books we have read throughout this semester, although it is not explicitly stated, they each have a subtle theme of the idea of a home and what it means to each of the characters.

In the Namesake, Gogol, an American born Bengali, struggles to identify himself and also struggles to identify where his home lies. At the beginning, he feels that anything associated with India would not be considered his identity/home because he wants to be associated with America instead. He wants to identify America as his home and his only identity. Even though he spends eight months in Calcutta, India with his family, he does not identify that place as his home at all. Yet, he does not consider his house in America his home either. He wants to establish his own place that he may call his home and established a “home” in an apartment after he graduated from college. Yet, although he truly wants to, he could not make it his home. He would often move around and live at his girlfriends’ place. Sometimes, he would feel more relaxed and at home with them. Especially with Maxine, he feels that he could identify with her lifestyle—until he realized that his home is not all American place but a combination of both American and Bengali cultured place. He then marries Moushumi in hopes of finding a home with her, because she too is Bengali American. Yet, he realizes that a home is not just culture based. At the end, he finds “home” in his father’s book written by the author Gogol. After experiencing both extreme ends of American and Bengali “homes” (Maxine and Moushumi), he still can’t find his place. He still can’t find his identity. This just shows how complicated the definition of a “home” is. There’s no perfect or correct answer. The definition is subject to change. In the beginning, Gogol does not even really want to be associated with his family and call his house his home. At the end, he feels the most “homey” with his family (after his father passed away). Throughout our lives, we will probably find more than one place we consider our homes.

In the second book, The Gangster We Are All Looking For, the narrator gets separated from her home in Vietnam. She tries making America her home but it leaves her with bad memories. She remembers her parents fighting, getting evicted from their apartment, and other not-so-happy events. She considers being with her dead brother homey. Her brother reminds her of some happy and sad moments in Vietnam but the memory of him also comforts/haunts her in America. With memories of him, she never feels alone, even in America. She dances with him, and not alone. I think that the narrator, as she grew up, realizes that she needs to find her own home. San Diego never seemed like a home to her and so she decides to move to the east. Like Gogol, she wants to find a place where she can identity as her home.

In America is in the Heart, Bulosan knows where his home is—America. Although he was born in the Philippines and has his childhood there, he has always wanted to get out of that place. He just didn’t feel quite right there. When he gets to America, although he faced great discrimination and racial violence, he doesn’t give up and continues to live in America. Although there were times where Bulosan questions America’s ways and “personality”, at the end of the day, he still stays with America and fights to stay here. There are times where he feels angry at America and at the constant contradictions (meeting people who hate him and those who takes good care of him). Yet, no matter what, he still feels a strong tie with America and decides that America is his home.

In A Gesture Life, Hata thinks that his home would be his house in Bedley Run or Bedley Run in general. He does not consider Korea his home and doesn’t even really consider Japan his home. He feels no or very little attachment to those places. He tries to make Bedley Run his home by having this “perfect” house, establishing a family, and creating this wonderful reputation of himself. He feels very comfortable there and does not want anything to take him away from this safe “home” of his. But later, he realizes that his home is actually with Sunny, his adopted daughter. He finds out that a home is not just a place of safety, a place of comfort, but a concept of love. Although in the novel, one may view his relationship with Sunny is moved by his sense of duty (in some ways, it is). But I can tell that he does truly love her. He does not want to ever lose her. When he gets the chance to be close to her again (through her son, Thomas), he jumps at the opportunity. When he meets Thomas, he finally realizes that home is not a materialistic house but a place or person you love you be in or be with. At the end of the book, he decides to find a place where he can really feel at home. He dares to explore. This is an important point because I think a home does not just exist but is created. So Hata decides to go establish a true home because he realizes that Bedley Run is not truly his home.

For Wen Ho Lee, in My Country Versus Me, he has always considered America his home but his faith in America waned when he was accused of being a spy for China. For Lee, there was never a moment where he doubted America but later, he feels unsure. He wants to call America his home but people in America want otherwise. They do not welcome him to this home. A lot of people feel like America can never be considered Lee’s home because he looks like a foreigner. Yet, after all the horrible things Lee endured, he still considers America his home. Although he wavered for a bit, at the end, he doesn’t doubt that America is his home. For Lee, America is a place where he establishes his family and that is his definition of a home.

Finally, in Obasan, Naomi’s home is with her Obasan and Uncle. Ever since she was little, she has lived with them and they have taken really good care of her. Unlike Aunt Emily, she doesn’t need to really say that a certain place is her home (like Canada). She thinks that if she’s with her Obasan, then she is at home. She used to think that a home is where her mother is but then her mother left and never returned. This devastated her but she created another home with her Obasan and Uncle later. Again, this proves that a home can be created and established. It doesn’t just exist on its own. It’s a place where you feel loved. In the novel, they were moved time and time again from their “home” in Canada. Although it is a devastating event, Naomi doesn’t feel like she is losing her true home because she still has Obasan and her Uncle by her side. When her Uncle died, that’s when you can see her truly upset because a part of her home is gone. In this novel, different characters had different meanings to what they think a home is or where it is. For Stephen, home is where music exists. For Aunt Emily, it is Canada. For Obasan, it’s probably with Naomi and her husband.

As you can see, home can have very different meanings, as demonstrated in these six novels that we’ve read throughout this semester. After reading through these novels, it makes me want to reflect over my narrative essay that I wrote at the beginning of the semester. For me, I wrote that I feel most at home when I’m with my family. I still think that’s true. But I also think that I can have multiple homes. After my year at Berkeley, I’m beginning to consider Berkeley my second home. APATH, my roommate, and my wonderful dorm make me love Berkeley even more. So a home can mean many things. It can be a place of identity, a place of origin, a special person, or a country. The meaning of home will never be clear and will always change. That is what makes a home special.

Jennifer

Sunday, May 4, 2008

HOME in a very big nutshell

I have come to realize that home is more than a place where I live or a place where I feel most comfortable. It is not just where my friends and family are or where I leave all my stuff. Home can mean all these things but it can also mean something much, much more. Throughout the course of the semester, we have learned what home has meant in many different contexts. In the six books we have read and studied, home has developed into more than I had originally thought. I have come to realize that home inevitably defines a person. Home is identity, where an individual can express his or her identity to the fullest.

In The Namesake, Gogol struggles with finding a feeling of home. In the house where he grows up, surrounded by his parents and sister, he does not ever feel like he truly belongs. He enters into identity confusion. He begins living in various places, but these never truly become home for him. In college, he attempts to be someone separate from the person he was growing up. He adopts a new name, believing that with this he will assume a separate identity in his supposedly new ‘home.’ In New York, he continues this name in a new ‘home,’ but depends on another person to define his identity. Indicative of this dependence is his occupancy of her home. Still, he does not fully commit to living there, as he attempts to hold on to whatever he believes to be his identity. When he marries, Gogol shares a home with his wife. He shares part of himself with her and believes that she is doing the same with him. Eventually, she realizes that she is not happy with who she is in this home and leaves him. Gogol does not seem to break from this identity confusion until the end of the novel. He no longer shares a home with anyone, which can be interpreted as his independence from other people. He has come to accept his own identity, separate from anyone else’s. It is then that he finally has found this home in himself.

In The Gangster We are all Looking For, the narrator wishes to leave the place that she calls home. She is a refugee from Vietnam who has left her homeland to come to America. She is forced to leave who she is in Vietnam. Her life and identity are affected when she arrives in America. This begins her struggle to feel at home in this new land. The arrival of her mother triggers conflict within the home of her family. Her parents fight almost continuously. She wants to flee from this negativity to find a better home. Her development is hindered by this instability within her home. When she is older, she escapes and runs away, finding refuge far from home. However, she feels that she is finally ready to accept who she is and returns home.

In America is in the Heart, Carlos Bulosan travels from the Philippines to the United States to discover who he is. He believes that home is where his family is in the Philippines. He inevitably leaves this home for America, where he hopes to establish himself and find a better life. What he finds is corruption and unwelcoming. He struggles to feel at home in a land where he is not accepted because of his immigrant background. All of his dreams of America and the person he could be begin to die away. However, he meets people who affect how he views himself and America. He discovers that ultimately he himself must define what this America means, where his home will be, and what role he will play in this place. He must look inside himself to define his home.

In A Gesture Life, Doc Hata builds a life that is seemingly perfect. He is respected in his perfect little town. He has the perfect daughter. And he owns the perfect house. Yet his home life is not as perfect as it seems. His daughter does not feel at home in this life that he has made for her. She tells him that it is because none of it is genuine. This life is a life full of gestures, actions and behaviors that are for the benefit of other people’s positive opinion. In addition, Hata is confused about what his true nationality is. He claims that Japan is his homeland, but, in actuality, it is Korea. This adds to this conflict in establishing a true home. Hata has this home and life that he believes to be one thing but is actually a fa├žade. In the end, when he decides to sell his house is when he realizes that this place is not the home he wishes to have. He is not the person he wishes to be.

In My Country Versus Me, Wen Ho Lee establishes himself as a ‘true American.’ He raises his family the ‘American way.’ His position at a national lab is done to protect this country that he calls home. Though he believes this country to be his home, it rejects him. Lee is accused of not really belonging to this country, to being a traitor. He is seen as a perpetual foreigner. He may reside here, but this is not his home. However, Lee fights this belief. He establishes that while he is Taiwanese, he is still an American. America is part of who he is because this is his home.

Finally, in Obasan, Naomi experiences this same identity-home confusion. Though she was born and raised in Canada, she is suspect of betrayal because of her Japanese descent. The country she calls home turns on her, tainting her as a traitor and sending her into internment. Still, her family, with whom she shares a home, stays as silent as she does. They keep things about their past and their family from her, things that affect her home and her identity. When the silence subsides, she realizes more about who she is.

Despite the diversity in the content of the novels, they all seem to have a similar theme: home inevitably affects a person’s identity, defining who they are and who they will be. Though it can be, home is not necessarily a physical place. Instead, it can be a place where one can fully express their identity. They can be who they are completely with no inhibition or concern. For me, home, regardless of location, is where I am respected and accepted for who I am. The people I am surrounded by and the experiences that I have affect my feeling of home and thus, the development of my identity. I feel like what I defined as home before affected how I defined myself also. Who I was before I came to Berkeley is not the same person I am today. My home in Berkeley has affected how I think, what I do, and the person I want to be. I have developed as an individual because of the experiences I have had in my new home. However, I still hold on to the home back in Southern California. I cannot deny that who I was there affects who I am today. Thus, home can be more than one place and it can mean more than one thing. Still, after all is said and done, home is where the heart is. You are the only person that can define what or where home is, just as you are the only person who can define who you are.

Laurie Bailon

P.S. The Return to the Topic of Home is by me, Precious Guan. I forgot to add my name at the end again =D haha...

The Return to the Topic of Home

For the last couple of weeks, I've been feeling sick for home. It really doesn't make any sense to me since I've been away for almost 4 months already, but it is just now kicking in. I'm so busy that I haven't really had the opportunity to call home on a regular basis and when I do call home, they are all busy or all together. I hear the laughing in the background as my sister stuggles to hear what I say. As time progresses the sickness grows stronger and more frequent in despite of all the stuff going on in my life. I miss my family, my friends, the comfortable feeling that accompanied me everywhere I went. These things were my definition of home. In my town with my people, not wanting to leave. But I did leave and I felt how far I was from home. But it didn't hit me until now that I really was far from home. But in the course of this realization, I also realized that my definition of home was changing. Almost in the same way as Carlos Bulosan in America is in the Heart and Doc Hata in The Gesture Life. In both cases, their definition of home changed. For Carlos, his location was constantly changing but it didn't seem like he ever found a home. In contrast, Doc Hata had the perfect home which he ends up leaving behind in search of god knows what? He turned his back on the American Dream in favor of finding his true self. Similarily, Carlos depended primarily on himself and gained a greater understanding of his being before he found his home.I feel as if I had the same background as Doc Hata, in that, I was living the good life before I decided to disturb the peace. I was safe and comfortable at home, and then I came to Berkeley. I was in need of finding myself apart from Precious Guan, the sheltered teenager from Long Beach, California. I needed to find out who I was without any pre-existing labels to confine me. An individual that would, hopefully, be able to stand on her own two feet. I don't mean that I need to sever all bonds linking me to the past, but that I need to know I can form new bonds and not only survive on the old ones. So if I must travel from coast to coast to find this new and improved Precious Guan, than I guess I better be ready for it because it is going to occur no matter what. I feel that aspect of my life is identical to Carlos's. I'm far away, living on my own, and constantly moving(not only meant in a physical space occupying sort of way) so that it is not out of the ordinary to lose one's sense of home. But home follows you wherever you go. I have cultivated a new community to call my own with close friends who feel as if I've known them my entire life, not taking th place but overlapping and complimenting the family and friends I have left back "home". Home is completely relative to the observer, each has our own definition, but I feel that home always comes back down to not only a house, family, and friends, but to include oneself as well.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

in response...

Yeah! Only a couple more weeks of class! So Jen, I was at the advance screening of Forbidden Kingdom, too. I was funny, but really corny as well. I just have to say though that when I saw that white guy show up on screen, the first thought that came to mind was that there was no way they could make a movie of just asians, right? sure it starred jackie chan and jet li, but the main protagonist was the white kid. He was the guy who the story was based around, not the other way around. it felt like the story of jackie chan and jet li just supported the white kid's story. that was one of the main things i didn't like about the film because came to see the movie to watch jackie chan and jet li but this nobody kid is the star. It felt like they just put their names on it to produce more revenue and get the kid out there. but i didn't really like his acting. i thought the movie was going to be more epic, with more action. don't get me wrong, i loved the comedy but i felt like it wasn't what i wanted to see in the first place. i'm a major fan of jackie and jet li, so i guess i was just anticipating them as the stars ONLY. you know, for once a film of all asians but in the mainstream?

Laurie, i know i told you that you performed very well last week in PCN, but seriously, you guys did an awesome job. it was suprisingly good show quality considering that it is a student-run show. i didn't expect it to turn-out that good. it was my first PCN, but some people i know said its the best they've seen so far. I felt like the message of the entire show was so strong because it was completely pertenant to being Filipino, even if we Filipino Americans don't experience those troubles. The problem of poverty, the unresolved issues of the veteranos, and the abuse of the OFWs are what I've heard about before and sympathized with but didn't necessarily touch me as it did as i watched the show go on. One of the problems featured in the showcase is on its way, the bill for the pension of the filipino veteranos. Hopefully makes it through so that these soldiers get what has been a long time coming. So that just means that next year's PCN should raise the bar even higher, since this is the only PCN i've been to and the only one i can make comparisons to. I know a couple people that didn't take part in PCN this year that were inspired by the show to part-take in next year's PCN. I personally don't think I would participate in it, serious case of stage freight and all, but am so excited to watch you all in the years to come. And Laurie, the idea of your paper sounds really good, for sure something I wouldn't have been able to come up with on my own. The connections you made are really out there but when you think of it, its true. I just get this feeling that everyone's second paper is going to be better than their first. I guess that's good, that way that would make up for my exam grade.

Well from Obasan, I felt like their internment wasn't as bad as the Japanese American internment. Don't get me wrong, internment is bad under any circumstance and projected upon any race, but I think the fact that the attack on Pearl Harbor was US territory and not Canadian had an impact on the strictness of internment. True the families didn't get to stay together as in American internment, but the areas they were put in we not as concentrated. The Canadians also got a little choice on where they wanted to go, at least compared to the Americans. I felt that the book was touching and definitely a story I never heard told before. I wasn't even aware that Japanese Canadian internment occured. When they told us that this book was Japanese internment, I just assumed it was American internment. Do any of you girls know if the internment had the same effect on out-marriage rates on Japanese Canadians as it did to Japanese Americans? That would be a very interestying fact to know.

So I guess that's it for now. Good luck with everything Ladies!

Precious Guan

only a few more weeks!!

I’m sorry too that I didn’t get to write in my journal last week!! I was a little preoccupied because …

PCN FINALLY ARRIVED!! So my life was consumed by that for the entire week. No joke. We had practices every night from 5pm to midnight, rehearsing the entire show and cleaning our performances. In the end, it was completely worth it. During the opening of the show, I was in the audience as part of the piece. Watching from that perspective, I could feel the energy of the performers. I was so excited. After months of preparation and stress and sacrifice, the big night was finally here. And we blew everyone away. People have said that it was the best PCN everrrrr, which makes me super proud. But I would’ve been proud of us regardless of what other people had to say. We had HUGE technical difficulties, but we still got our message across. Hopefully, we were able to mobilize members of our community for social change, and were able to educate individuals who aren’t Filipino about the issues that affect us. I hope that people understood what we were trying to say, and were empowered themselves to go out there and make change for themselves.

Yeah … because of PCN, I also got sick, which is another reason why I was unable to write in the blog last week. Considering I was sleep-deprived, I basically knocked out in my parents’ hotel room after the show. And I didn’t wake up until a few hours before our class the Monday morning after.

I basically spent all my free time (and even time when I should’ve been in class) working on our paper last week because I wasn’t able to focus on it during all of that business. I ended up writing about the role of white women in Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart. I was going to focus on the importance of the minor characters in Bulosan’s life, but while I was gathering textual evidence, I realized that the majority of the minor characters I was highlighting were women. And not only just women, but white women. So … I wanted to analyze more about the importance of that. I concluded that white women became the personification of Bulosan’s ideals about America. They represented education (Mary Strandon), kindness and support (Marian), ability to create change (Dora), acceptance of culture and race (Alice Odell), and steady companionship (Eileen). The reason why them being white is significant because they were foreign to Bulosan. He was not accustomed to their culture. He feared them because he thought they would be unable to understand him. These are all things he feared of America. In the end, however, they overcame these fears and proved to Bulosan that America was a place where he could belong. They allowed him to understand his emotions rather than ignore them. Thus, he learned that in order to understand what America is, he must look within and define it for himself.

Have a great week, ladies!

Laurie Bailon