Compassion

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Compassion

A couple weeks ago I was asked to give a speech and screen a film I did in 2010 about two Vietnamese immigrants' experiences moving to Chicago under very different circumstances.

A few people have asked me to post the film and the transcript of my speech, so I've done so here.

Here is the film:

And here is the transcript of my speech:

 

It’s difficult to give a speech about anything these days without having it be politicized.

 

It seems a little ridiculous that this film, which was made seven years ago, two years into Obama’s administration, is as relevant or even more relevant today. I think this is symptomatic of how much progress I thought we’d been making with inclusiveness and equality for minorities and immigrants in this country. The massive post-election sighs heard around the world leads me to believe that I don’t speak for myself when I say, regarding my belief in multicultural progress, that I feel like I’ve had the rug pulled out from under me, a rug pulled quickly and without warning and making me feel like I’m floating in the air, not sure if I’ll shatter into a thousand shards when gravity finally takes hold.

 

It’s like that feeling when you’re in an elevator that suddenly drops or when you’re in a car that takes a speed bump too quickly or when you’re in an airplane that runs up against an undertow of turbulence, when your stomach pulls up against your heart and a paleolithic panic tells your brain to brace for something painful. Except this is one patch of turbulence that’s going to last for four years. Four long years. One thousand four hundred and sixty days of hitting speed bumps going way too fast--where the driver doesn’t give a shit because it’s a rental anyways.

 

If you’re like me, an immigrant born in another country but having built most of their life here, then you’ve probably got some minimum part of you that feels anger at what November 8th 2016 revealed.

 

And that is this: compassion is dying. The very idea of sympathetic pity or concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others is being drowned in a sea of hate and anger and blame. But it’s not completely hopeless. Swirling around in that sea of hate, compassion is still in there, despite being more dissolved and more difficult to taste. We do have compassion for fellow humans, just not for people who we see as excessively and therefore categorically “other.”

 

So where do we draw the line?

 

In creating Nuoc and telling Hai and Khanh’s stories, my hope was to create a space for anyone to feel compassion for their journey, no matter how different the specifics of their stories are to viewers’ own stories. Nuoc is very much about how unique each immigrant’s story can be and how that has a bearing on one’s identity. Nuoc, which means water in Vietnamese, is a metaphor for how fluid and elusive identity can be for new immigrants.

 

Now that we’ve arrived at this current political mire, I suddenly realize that there is a new “other.” This new other, whose disparate identities have accreted into a unified voice of populism, of hatred, and of blaming that has fueled an uprising of all that is so antithetical to a more inclusive compassion in this country, has suddenly spoken. And while I believe these people are on the wrong side of history, I find it difficult to not feel compassion.

 

I want to have compassion for all. For the knocked-down working class whose wealth and job opportunities shrink year by year with little to no explanation. People who have been seeing the rich get richer for decades while they feel attacked for a concept of privilege they may never have had the privilege to be educated about in the first place. I want to give these people who bought into the racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic answers that Trump sold them an outlet for their plights other than hate, than blame, than violence. To give them a voice and have their feelings of being misunderstood heard and validated the way that Hai and Khanh’s stories were in Nuoc.

 

But I thought about this some more and I realized this is problematic too. For herein lies the difference. Hai and Khanh arrived powerless and poor in 1992, with barriers to entry like language, discrimination, a lack of social support networks, and lasting trauma carried over from a war-torn country in large-part war-torn by the very country they were arriving at. These are barriers that the knocked-down working class who’ve bought into the racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic rhetoric have not had to deal with. Job opportunities and wealth have never been a guarantee for Hai and Khanh in the first place. So yes, I am miffed at these knocked-down people who’ve given into the racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic answers that Trump’s administration has sold them.

 

So my faith and hope lies in the fact that these racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic views are not rooted in unchangeable belief. Just like Hai and Khanh’s fluid formulations of identity, of home, and of being American--we must remember the temporal, ephemeral quality of even a craggly thing as hate. That these views were bought into as an easy out and can, with work and compassion, be washed away.

 

By using the idea of water. An embracing of the ungraspable, connective sameness that we all share despite the difference in saltiness or grittiness or shade or taste. To look someone “other” in the eye and, despite the absolute hatred in theirs for, if you’re luckier, others, or if you’re not, you, and see that you are connected in the way the Mediterranean is to Lake Michigan, in the way Amazonian rainfall is to Midwestern snowmen. To remember that you both emerged from your mother’s womb not knowing whether it’d be into a world of Southern Vietnamese humidity or Southern Illinois morning dew. To remember how quickly we all evaporate.

 

To remember, that this moment, quoting Khanh, “belongs to you."

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A letter to my subjects

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A letter to my subjects

To whom it may concern:

Do you prefer subject? Character? One who is followed? What's the most appropriate here, what's the most comfortable for you, what's going to make it feel more horizontally level between us?

Is it truth we seek? A reckoning of why we get up out of bed and do the things we do? A reflection on these things from a distance, when time and space and age and wisdom and growth and more time has made us change our perspective enough to feel as if we've matured, moved on, or at the very least are able to articulate something we've experience that is confusing and traumatic and not at all our fault?

Do you care, honestly, as much as I do that our fathers hurt us? I mean now, as we live on in our own independent ways, trying our best to do what makes us happy--are you as bothered, in a sub-physical, gnawing way, that we can't do anything about that hurt except own it, attempt catharsis, maybe try to make art or do work that chips away at the pain? Is it just me that feels this way?

Or are you staring off, eye uncontacting, because you don't want to admit it? Because the whole point in our fathers hurting us was so that we could learn that life is pain, suffering unavoidable, unfairness a certainty? That you shouldn't be a little bitch, a little pussy, a little pansy--that this just makes you vulnerable in this godforsaken violent hurtful reality of the world? Is this what our own fathers learned? Can they know anything else, or is it too late? Will you at least admit these things and let us feel our feelings, even if we feel differently, just for a moment, even if we know exactly why we bury our hearts in our wallets or clothes or act, even if the next day we go back to burying because its just more practical in the real world?

And what then if it is getting better? That if every generation sheds more and more layers of tough authoritative parental skin--this shedding caused by late capitalistic wealth or sacrificed lessons (like the way 1st generation immigrants' hands get worked to the bone only to have their 3rd generation immigrant childrens' hands chapped by Angry Bird swiping)--what happens then to toughness and thick-skin and resiliency? Is it even right to think of violence and fragility as a spectrum?

Are we too stuck in our own battles of what our fathers did to us and who we want/strive/desire to be? Are we like the 2nd generation immigrant person, trapped between two cultures: one mad as hell and pent up about our providing but alienating parents and another softly eyeing an ideal future where we want better for our own kids? In 1000 years will we be martyrs to a bygone generation where men asserted their dominance and/or allayed their insecurities inside the home by grabbing their spouses by the throat, by grabbing their children by the collars of their shirt and throwing them across the room?

If you had known that these were the questions I sought, would you have signed on to set sail with me? What if--and this part is true--I didn't know either that these were the questions I sought, except that I wanted answers anyway? Would you mutiny, citing for reasons a monomaniacal Ahab too obsessed with his own barely contained PTSD to care about the people on board with him and their own well-being? Is it too late for you though? Have you, like I feel like I have, come too far to go back? Have you left Plato's Cave and can never again believe in shadows without also believing shadow-makers?

Is this what we mean, or I mean, since you guys didn't finish high school and I studied Derrida in college (is this condescending to write, and is it worth my audience's attention to reword?) when I say deconstructing? Or are we demystifying, as in removing the mythology out of what we grew up to believe--whether it be gender roles or Santa Claus or skateboarding as savior?

Is anybody even going to want to answer these questions? Are these the type of rhetorical questions--or questions that are themselves trying to prove a point--that can only be satisfactorily answered by more questions, by people who are okay with uncertainty?

Your filmmaker,

Bing Liu

P.S. Please take me seriously, I only want that.

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Thoughts on attending IDA's Getting Real 2016 conference written from a LA front porch in the shade while I sweat dry moisture.

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Thoughts on attending IDA's Getting Real 2016 conference written from a LA front porch in the shade while I sweat dry moisture.

I feel guilt. Laden with a confusion about why. All the time. I wonder if I was meant to feel this. I question it. God. My family. Science. Epistemology.

 

My stepfather. His face, a memory. Rolled around on my mind’s teeth so long it ceases to hold meaning. My childhood transformed like an American neighborhood--built on trauma and blood and exploitation but looking very much like a traveller’s postcard now (and in a lot of ways not just looking like but feeling and functioning like, too).

 

I want peace, comfort, love, trust. I struggle with these things.

 

I feel pressure to make decisions, to decide.


I decide not to make decisions. To learn and love and be. To feel and hope and dream. To think and smile and enjoy. To be grateful for everything. This is happiness.

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Spring 2016

Filming and editing skateboarding, much like the act of skateboarding, allows a creative freedom I can't find anywhere else. I just bought a servo zoom style camera, the Sony X70, and it felt not unlike buying a new board, trucks, and wheels. I spent the last couple of days breaking it in as I prepare to go on a skate trip to South Korea in a few weeks.

Technical lessons learned: AVCHD looks like poop compared to XAVC, although XAVC is somewhat more of a pain to deal with in post.

Life lessons learned: I missed filming long lens really bad.

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Edit# 16.02.06.01

It feels like it's been a long time since I've filmed skateboarding without it being earmarked as ancillary footage for Minding the Gap. 

When I went to Wilson today to enjoy the unseasonable warmth, I felt a joy and freedom in skating and filming. I grew up filming and editing skateboard montages and making skate edits allowed me to enter a state of meditative mindlessness just as much as the act of skateboarding did. And now that Minding the Gap appears to wrapping up with principle photography, it's exciting to reacquaint myself with those states of being. I can't wait for summer.


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The morning after

I woke up at 6am with the same panicked pain in my chest that I felt yesterday. I am terrified of the ramifications of my last blog post.

 

 

Here is how my stepfather would physically abuse me: he would burst into my room, angry about this thing or the other. He would grab my face or my throat or my hair and throw me across the room, as if my face or my throat or my hair were the handle of a kettle weight. Except I remember feeling weightless because I was a scrawny boy. He would press his nails into my face and squeeze. He would not relent until he made me cry, but then he would call me a pansy or a weakling for crying. His rationale was partially punishment for one thing or another and partially blind, black-out rage. He had catch phrases for these episodes.

 

“Want me to give you something to cry about?” was one of them.

 

It’s difficult being open with my girlfriend, on an emotional level, because she and I had very different childhoods: her parents raised her well and instilled a strong sense of morality and compassion in her. She had a stable, loving home. After she read my blog post, I told her about this difficulty I have opening up with her over the phone last night. She has the sort of patient, considerate heart that won’t say anything out of place or inconsiderate, so there was a lot of silence on her end, which made me nervous and scared.

 

I already feel myself closing off to this blog post, to the subject at all. The panic is floating away from my chest. It’s a fight-or-flight response, and I’m choosing to flee.

 

But I don’t want to become my step father. I spent a lot of my time after I left home working, saving up money, and wandering. I went to the West coast. I went to Haiti. I went to Puerto Rico and China and Taiwan and Thailand and Peru and Colombia. I went to the East coast, the South. I went to Montreal.

 

It just sucks. I have to remember to be a good person every day. And I am so afraid that this all sounds whiny and poo-poo-ey and childish.

 

It’s funny how all of these disparate, confusing feelings I harbor have deeply affected my portrayal of my subjects in Minding the Gap. As the film chugs along, you can actually see how the tone and my relationship with the people in it changes in the middle and the last act of the story. I’m growing up with the boys and young men in the story is the exciting thing.

 

I’m making this story about myself too.

 

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